Fascinating Facts About the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Dec. 30 2013 9:16 AM

Up Close and Personal with the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball


Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Every New Year's Eve, hundreds of thousands of revelers crowd the frozen streets of Times Square, standing for hours for the chance to watch a big ball fall down a flagpole.

The tradition of celebrating the new year in Times Square began in 1904. Two big events occurred that year: the first subway line opened, and the New York Times set up shop at One Times Square, the newly constructed 25-story building on 42nd Street and Broadway. Wanting to draw crowds to the newspaper's headquarters, Times owner Adolph Ochs organized a New Year's Eve fireworks display. The usual way to ring in a new year was to head to Trinity Church downtown and shake cans full of broken bricks. But this was even better.


Around 200,000 people attended the 1904 celebrations. Seeking to capitalize on his success, Ochs went further in 1907 and installed an iron and wood "time ball" adorned with 100 incandescent light bulbs on the roof of One Times Square. When 1907 clicked over to 1908, the ball dropped down the building's flagpole, triggering the now customary fireworks show.

Since its debut, the New Year's Eve ball has had six makeovers. The current version, installed in 2009, is a 12-foot-wide geodesic sphere illuminated by 672 LED modules. Bolted onto the modules are 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles, as seen in these photos by Anthony Quintano.

At the end of the ball's 60-second journey down the flagpole, over a ton of confetti flutters onto Times Square from the surrounding skyscrapers. On December 29 each year, organizers conduct a confetti airworthiness test by throwing handfuls of the stuff from the designated buildings. This tradition was established in response to NYPD fears that sharp-edged confetti could shred some poor tourist's cornea. The precaution paid off — thus far no confetti-related eye injuries have been reported.

Though it gets the bulk of its attention on New Year's Eve, the ball is visible year-round on the roof of One Times Square. The Times left the building in 1913 — apart from a Walgreens on the first floor and the offices of New Year's Eve company Countdown Entertainment on the 22nd floor, the skyscraper is completely empty. Its owners earn money by selling advertising spots on the external walls — companies pay up to $4 million per year for a prime position.


Photo: Ella Morton


Photo: Ella Morton


Other great balls of the USA:

View One Times Square in a larger map


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They just aren’t ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

A No-Brainer Approach to Fighting Poverty: Better Birth Control

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 16 2014 11:56 AM Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet
Business Insider
Sept. 16 2014 1:23 PM Germany Has Asked Google to Reveal Its Search Algorithm, but That's Not Going to Happen
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Sept. 16 2014 12:59 PM Ethereal Views of Earth From Way Up High 
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 12:33 PM Slate Exclusive: Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 16 2014 7:30 AM A Galaxy of Tatooines
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.