The back story on NY’s midnight drop of the Waterford ball

  • New York City has, over the years, inspired other cities to drop from a height, some kind of talisman at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. In New Orleans, it is a giant representation of a gumbo pot filled with sea critters. But in New York, it is an enormous Waterford crystal ball. Here’s the story behind the tradition, from the New York Times.

    So. How do other cities you know, celebrate New Year’s Eve?

    A New Year’s Eve tradition

    The Waterford crystal ball is now perched about 500 feet above Times Square in New York, and we all know what it’s for, but — why?
    Since the early 19th century, so-called time balls were used in harbors, dropping every day so that sailors could view them through telescopes and set their ships’ clocks.
    But the idea for the New Year’s ball dropcame from the former Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs. First, he persuaded the city in 1904 to rename Longacre Square for The Times, as the newspaper moved to the area.
    Then, on Dec. 31, 1904, about 200,000 people celebrated New Year’s Eve with a fireworks display at the 24-story Times Tower.
    The Waterford crystal ball in Times Square. Peter Foley/EPA, via Shutterstock
    But Mr. Ochs wanted to top that. So The Times’s chief electrician made a giant ball from wood and iron and outfitted it with 100 25-watt bulbs. It was lowered from the 70-foot flagpole atop the building at the end of 1907.
    The Times has since relocated twice, but the holiday tradition has remained.