22 photos that show the evolution of New York City’s Times Square ball drop

Every year, over a million people pack into New York City’s Times Square to revel in the new year.

2017 marks the 110th anniversary of the ball drop – the tradition of watching a glowing sphere that slides down a pole until midnight.

Let’s take a look at how the celebration has evolved over the past century.


Since the tradition began in 1904, New York’s New Year’s Eve celebration has been one of the world’s largest. The first celebration had about 200,000 attendees.

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People near Trinity Church on New Year’s Eve in 1906 in New York City.
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NYPL

In the early years, crowds gathered at Wall Street’s Trinity Church to listen to church bells at midnight before the Times Square festivity became more popular.


New York had its first ball drop in 1907 after the city banned fireworks. The 700-pound ball had 100 bulbs, was made of iron and wood, and appeared every year until 1920.

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New Year’s Eve in Times Square in New York City, circa 1940s.
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YouTube/Screenshot

Source: The New Yorker


Over the next few decades, the number of spectators swelled. This was the crowd on December 31, 1941.

source
NYPL

When the US entered World War II, the fire department started ramping up security. Because of wartime blackouts, 1942 and 1943 were the only two years without ball drops.


Nevertheless, an estimated half million turned out to Times Square in 1942. At midnight, there was a moment of silence and then a ringing of church bells.


As televisions became more mainstream in the 1960s, people began tuning in to watch the city’s celebration. In 1963, some 3,000 people danced in Grand Central Terminal and watched the Times Square spectacle — just a few blocks away — on a giant TV.


In 1955, a new ball made partially of aluminum was introduced. The city used it until 1998 — though it was renovated several times over that period.

In 1978, the ball was revamped to feature halogen lamps, which shone brighter than the previous incandescent bulbs.

Source: The New York Times


In honor of the “I Love New York” campaign, the 1981 New Year’s ball included red lights and a green “stem” to make it look like an apple.

That was also the final year Russ Brown, the superintendent of One Times Square, managed the ball dropping after 16 years.


In 1982, four bombs exploded at government buildings in New York on New Year’s Eve. The next year, the city bought a series of $20,000 robots that could handle bombs, wield shotguns, and drag fallen officers out of danger. They monitored 1983’s celebration.

Source: “Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI”


In 1988, the ball organizers added a one-second light show at midnight. It took 60 seconds to drop.

Source: The New York Times


In the 1990s, special guests started activating the ball. The first was the philanthropist Oseola McCarty, later followed by Muhammad Ali, Mary Ann Hopkins from Doctors Without Borders, Lady Gaga, and others.

Source: The City of New York


In 1995, the ball was upgraded with rhinestones, strobes, and computer controls.

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A worker on a flag pole high above One Times Square to affix rigging for the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop in New York City on December 24, 1997.
source
Reuters

Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the police department tightened security in Times Square even more. Bomb-sniffing dogs and 7,000 officers with handheld metal detectors were on duty.


About 500,000 people watched the ball drop that marked the beginning of 2002.


Over time, the ball became more intricate in design and larger in size. In the 2003 photo below, workers tested the 1,070-pound crystal ball that hovered 400 feet above Times Square.

source
Reuters

The 2009 ball was outfitted with 32,256 LEDs — more energy-efficient bulbs.

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A woman photographing the new Waterford Crystal ball in New York on November 20, 2007.
source
Reuters

In 2008, New York barred cars from Times Square. Pedicabs began driving the ball’s numeral fixtures instead.

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Pedicab drivers in Times Square on December 16, 2009.
source
Reuters

After Times Square became a car-free space, even more people were able to crowd into the streets beneath the New Year’s ball.

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The roof atop One Times Square on December 27, 2011.
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Reuters

The nearly 12,000-pound crystal contraption now includes more than 32,000 lights that emit billions of kaleidoscopic color patterns.

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Men installing some of the 288 sparkling crystal triangles on the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball in Times Square on December 27, 2014.
source
Reuters

Rainbow confetti drops at midnight along with the ball.

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New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square on December 31, 2011.
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Reuters

After midnight on New Year’s, the Department of Sanitation performs massive cleanups to clear the confetti and other debris. In 2014, 190 workers cleared over 50 tons of trash from Times Square.

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A reveler makes angels in the confetti on the ground during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square on January 1, 2014.
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Reuters

Source: CBS


About a million people are expected to fill Times Square to ring in 2018.

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A view of the ball dropping during New Year’s Eve 2017 on December 31, 2016.
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Getty Images

Source: Patch