This year’s New Year’s Eve ball drop will be a private affair in person, honoring frontline workers who helped keep New York running during the pandemic.Credit...James Estrin/The New York Times
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How New York’s Times Square New Year’s Eve has evolved over 114 years

On January 1, 1905, the New York Times ran a front page story about a “big new year fete” that had taken place the night before in Times Square. More than 200,000 people had flooded the square to herald the coming new year, and when the clock struck midnight, a fireworks show lit up the sky. It’s said that the roar of the revelers and their noisemakers could be heard 30 miles away. 

It was the very first New Year’s Eve celebration in New York City’s Times Square — a tradition that continues to draw enormous crowds more than 100 years later. 

According to the Times Square Alliance, that inaugural party was the brainchild of August Ochs, then-owner of the New York Times. Ochs wanted to throw a party to commemorate the opening of the paper’s new headquarters — the Times Tower — so he organized a street festival that ran into the night and culminated with the aforementioned fireworks.

In fact, those fireworks were launched directly from the base of the Times Tower — a practice that was unsurprisingly banned two years later.

But every year, the party kept happening, even when the New York Times outgrew the tower and relocated elsewhere in the city. And from the looks of old photos, the crowds were at least as big as they are today. 

Left: 1942. Right: 2015. 
AP/Julio Cortez

The revelers looked just as spirited, too — though modern New Year’s partygoers have the added advantage of light-up glasses like the ones pictured at right. 

New Year’s revelers in 1942, left, and 2015, right. 
AP; Getty/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Even the New Year’s ball drop dates back more than 100 years, according to the Times Square Alliance, which now organizes and plans for the December 31st festivities. The original ball debuted in 1907, measured 5 feet in diameter, and weighed 700 pounds — likely because it was made of wood and iron. It’s been lowered every year since then except for 1942 and 1943, when the city held a wartime “dimout” of its bright lights. 

Over the past 110 years, there have been several versions of the ball, including the apple-shaped one pictured below, used from 1981 to 1988. Today’s ball, pictured on the right, is illuminated by 32,256 LED lights and weighs six tons. (Believe it or not, ” time balls” were a thing long before they became part of New Year’s — they’re actually a 19th century maritime tradition.)

Left: Mayor Ed Koch shows of the ball in 1981. Right: the ball in 2014. 
AP/Lederhandler; Kathy Willens

Today, New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a highly orchestrated event that brings crowds up to a million strong. It features performances by music superstars and it’s televised across the world. You can even watch the ball drop on a dedicated smartphone app. Revelers come to stake out their spots hoursin advance, and when the ball finally drops, more than a ton of confetti rains down over the square. 

Right: 1966. Left: 2015. 
AP/Harvey Lippman; Kevin Hagen

The celebration has certainly grown more elaborate, and Times Square has gotten a whole lot brighter thanks to a preponderance of high-tech billboards. But a lot of the city’s New Year’s traditions — the ball, the noise, and those unbelievable crowds — haven’t changed much at all. 

Written by Caroline Praderio 

Update – The 2021 ball drop will be completely virtual.

Workers install new Waterford Crystal triangles on the New Year’s Eve ball for the 2021 New Year’s Eve Celebration. 

In a statement to Fox News, Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins said that because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no crowd of people present to ring in the new year. Instead, the celebrations will take place online. 

“But this year there will be significantly new and enhanced virtual, visual and digital offerings to complement whatever limited live entertainment or experiences – still in development – will take place in Times Square,” Tompkins told Fox in September. 

Despite this, there will still be live musical performances from artists including Andra Day and Gloria Gaynor. Performances for “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” include Jennifer Lopez, Billy Porter, Cyndi Lauper, Jimmie Allen, and Machine Gun Kelly.

According to the Times Square Official Website: “On December 31, viewers can tune in for a live broadcast where they can choose from multiple camera feeds to direct their own New Year’s Eve show. Plus, viewers will also get a chance to see other celebrations from around the globe, and hear messages from local leaders and people from dozens of cities from around the world.”

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