Few New Year’s traditions are more familiar than staying up until midnight to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Signifying new beginnings and the excitement of starting fresh, the ball drop has been an American institution since 1907. But how did this tradition start and what goes into a construction of that magnitude? Read this week’s blog to find out!
Origins of the NYE Ball Drop
The idea that dropping a ball could mark time goes back to the 1830s in England. The still-operational Time Ball sits atop Flamsteed House in England and to this day it marks the 13th hour each afternoon. Sometimes it is shut down when it’s too windy, but unlike the New Year’s Eve Ball, you won’t have to wait a whole year if you miss this one!
The tradition of the ball drop in New York City began in 1907 when an immigrant and metalworker named Jacob Starr built the first New Year’s Eve Ball. The 700-pound iron and wooden installation was only 5 feet in diameter and decorated with 100 25-watt bulbs. Since then, six more iterations of the New Year’s Eve Ball have rung in the decades, each larger and more brilliant than the last.
What Went into Building the NYE Ball?
Although each of the New Year’s Eve Balls of the past has had the same basic components—lights, metal, glass or crystal—each has looked starkly different than the original version, and none has been more brilliant than the ball that will sit atop NYC this New Year’s Eve.
The current New Year’s Eve Ball weighs in at 11,785 pounds, boasting 2,688 individual Waterford crystal panels and more than 32,000 LED lights. That makes it more than 17 times heavier than the original ball Jacob Starr made! It’s also just over twice the diameter at 12 feet across.
The designer of the current New Year’s Eve Ball, Jim O’Leary, stated that the ball is a geodesic design—a practical choice as it helps the piece withstand the crushing winds that whip across the rooftops of New York City. He went on to say it’s the only fine-crystal outdoor installation in the world and it took a team of designers and builders 12 months to construct.
Each year, the Ball has a new theme. This year’s theme is Serenity, and 288 new crystal panels depicting intertwining butterflies have been installed. Michael Craig is the President of Fiskars Living Americas—the parent company of Waterford Crystal—and had this to say of this year’s theme, “We are trying to pass along the idea of tranquility, peace and calm to everyone.”
Preparations for the drop continue up until the midnight hour, with engineers and artists testing the ball over and over again for weeks leading up to the big moment. Tom Brennan, Fiskars Living’s master artisan, told ABC News, “Testing is so thorough. It’s something we just take so seriously. An hour before [the drop] we are still testing—the cabling, the lighting. We’re rechecking everything to just to make sure it’s perfect.”
Fun Facts About the NYE Ball
The New Year’s Eve Ball has been dropped in New York City every year since 1907 except for two—in 1942 and 1943 the celebrations were put off because the city was in the midst of wartime “dimouts.” Instead, the Times Square crowd rung in 1943 and 1944 with the sound of church bells accompanied by a minute of silence.
3,000 pounds of confetti grace the heads of spectators when the clock strikes midnight. It takes more than 100 people and 30,000,000 individual pieces of paper to make the spectacle happen.
The trip from the top of the pole to the bottom may only take a minute, but the drop is actually 77 ft. That means nearly 12,000 pounds of metal, crystal and lights have to drop over a foot per second and manage to stop without crushing everything underneath it—a feat in and of itself!
For the first 87 years of the ball drop, the spectacle was run entirely by hand. Now, it’s an electronic process and an atomic clock in Colorado controls the countdown.
While we may not have the expertise to build a crystal ball for your New Year’s Eve celebration, our team is ready to help with all your residential construction projects. Call J-Tech construction if your 2019 resolution is a more efficient and beautiful home to talk about installing new or repairing old windows, doors, gutters, shingles or siding. Both the team here in Havelock and our Tri-cities office wish you a very Happy New Year!