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How Times Square Became the Home of New Year’s Eve

December 27, 2017 in History

By Christopher Klein

Crowds of people gather in Times Square to celebrate New Year's Eve. (Credit: Truman Moore/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

The biggest night of the year was quickly approaching, and Adolph S. Ochs needed to find new entertainment for his New Year’s Eve party. For the previous three years, the New York Times publisher had set the skies above Manhattan ablaze with a midnight fireworks show launched from the roof of his newspaper’s 25-story headquarters. The pyrotechnics had been a hit with the 200,000 revelers who filled the junction around Broadway and 42nd Street—newly rechristened Times Square after its famous tenant—but the hot ash that rained down upon them concerned New York City officials so much that they banned the fireworks from ushering in 1908.

Ochs wasn’t one to be easily deterred. His flashy New Year’s Eve bash had previously drawn crowds away from the traditional celebration in Lower Manhattan, where New Yorkers listened as the bells of Trinity Church rang in the new year. Yet without the fireworks show, Ochs would need a new spectacle to lure the masses to the hinterlands of Times Square for New Year’s Eve.

Crowds of people gather in Times Square to celebrate New Year’s Eve. (Credit: Truman Moore/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

The New York Times chief found the inspiration he needed at the Western Union Building downtown, where a metal ball three-and-a-half feet in diameter dropped from the pinnacle of the building to signify the time every weekday at noon. Nearby city dwellers peeked their heads out of horse-drawn carriages and windows, craning their necks skyward as the sun reached its zenith. On the rare occasions that the operation malfunctioned, it was the talk of the town and fodder for the newspapers.

The New York Times publisher decided to put his own spin on the city’s beloved “time ball” to usher in 1908. As people poured out of theaters, restaurants and streetcars into Times Square on December 31, 1907, they gazed up to the top of the Times Tower and saw a dazzling orb made of wood and iron, illuminated with 100 electric light bulbs.

As the crowd counted down the final fleeting seconds of 1907, workers used ropes and pulleys to slowly lower the 700-pound ball down the flagpole crowning New York’s second-tallest building. Unlike the Western Union Building’s time ball and others like it, which signified the time at the moment the ball began to move, the sphere on top of the Times Tower marked the time when it …read more


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