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The Times Square Ball is a time ball located atop the One Times Square building in New York City, primarily utilized as part of New Year's Eve celebrations held Times Square. Yearly at 11:59 p.m. EST on December 31, the ball is lowered 77 feet (23 m) down a specially designed flagpole, resting on the midnight to signal the start of the new year. The first ball drop in Times Square took place on December 31, 1907, and has been held annually since (except in 1942 and 1943, when the ball drop itself was not held in observance of wartime blackouts). The ball's design has also been updated over the years to reflect new advances in technologies—its original design utilized 100 incandescent light bulbs, iron, and wood in its construction, while its current incarnation features a computerized LED lighting system and an outer surface consisting of triangle-shaped crystal panels. As of 2009, the ball is also displayed atop One Times Square year-round, removed only for general maintenance.
The Times Square ball drop is one of the best-known New Year's celebrations internationally, attended by at least one million spectators yearly, with an estimated global audience of at least 1 billion. The prevalence of the Times Square ball drop has also inspired other similar "drops" held locally in other cities and towns across the United States.
The first New Year's Eve celebration in what is now known as Times Square was held on New Year's Eve 1904. The New York Times newspaper had opened their new headquarters at One Times Square (at the time, the city's second tallest building) in Longacre Square and persuaded the city to rename the triangular "square" surrounding it for their newspaper (which the city later did on April 8, 1904). The newspaper's owner, Adolph Ochs, decided to celebrate the opening of the company's new headquarters with a midnight fireworks show on the roof of the building on December 31, 1903. Close to 200,000 people attended the event, displacing traditional celebrations that had normally been held at Trinity Church. However, Ochs wanted a bigger spectacle at the building to draw more attention to the newly-named Times Square. After four years of New Year's Eve fireworks celebrations, the newspaper's chief electrician Walter F. Palmer constructed an electrically lit time ball that would be lowered from the flagpole on the roof of One Times Square. It was constructed with iron and wood, lit with one hundred 25-watt bulbs, weighed 700 pounds (320 kg), and measured 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. It was first lowered on New Year's Eve 1908 (December 31, 1907). It originally dropped one second after midnight. Though the Times would later move its headquarters to a larger building at 229 West 43rd Street, the New Year's Eve celebration at One Times Square remains to this day.
The original Ball was scrapped and replaced in 1920. The second ball remained 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter and was constructed of iron, weighing 400 pounds (180 kg). During World War II, the descent of the second ball was discontinued for New Year's Eve 1942 and 1943 due to wartime lighting restrictions in case of an enemy attack. Celebrants instead observed a moment of silence at midnight, followed by the sound of chimes that were played on speakers throughout Times Square. The second ball was scrapped and replaced by a third ball in 1955 made of aluminum, weighing 150 pounds (68 kg), and remained 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. From 1981 to 1989, the third ball was decorated in honor of the I Love New York campaign, with red bulbs and a green stem to give it the appearance of an apple. The original white bulbs returned in 1989, but were replaced in 1991 with red, white, and blue bulbs to salute the troops of Operation Desert Shield.
The third ball was revamped again in 1995 for New Year's Eve 1996, adding rhinestones and a computerized lighting system featuring strobe lights. For the arrival of the new millennium, an entirely new ball was constructed. Weighing 1,070 pounds (490 kg) and measuring 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter, the fourth ball was covered with 504 crystal triangles produced by Waterford Crystal, illuminated externally with 168 halogen light bulbs, and internally with 432 light bulbs of clear, red, blue, green and yellow colors along with strobe lights and spinning mirrors. Many of the triangles were inscribed with messages of a certain theme changing yearly, such as "Hope for Fellowship", "Hope for Wisdom", "Hope for Unity", "Hope for Courage", "Hope for Healing", and "Hope for Abundance". In 2001, the ball's crystals were engraved with the names of organizations who assisted during the September 11 attacks and the nations who were affected by the event. On December 31, 2006 for New Year's Eve 2007, the fourth ball, which was newly rigged with light-emitting diodes by Lighting Science Corporation was dropped for the last time. A duplicate of the fourth ball, also made in 1999, has remained on permanent display at the Waterford Crystal Factory in Ireland.
In honor of the Ball Drop's 100th anniversary, a brand new fifth design debuted for New Year's Eve 2008. Once again manufactured by Waterford Crystal with a diameter of 6 feet (1.8 m), but weighing 1,212 pounds (550 kg)), it used LED lighting provided by Philips (which can produce over 16.7 million colors) with computerized lighting patterns developed by the New York City-based lighting firm Focus Lighting. The ball featured 9,567 energy-efficient bulbs that consume the same amount of electricity as only 10 toasters. The 2008 ball was only used once—another new ball would be used beginning on New Year's Eve 2009. The new ball, while retaining the design used by the 2008 ball, was rebuilt to be double its previous size. The updated ball is a icosahedral geodesic sphere, 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter with a weight of 11,875 pounds (5,386 kg). To accommodate the new ball, the flagpole atop One Times Square was rebuilt and enlarged, now rising 475 feet (145 m) above Times Square. Additionally, the new ball remains atop Times Square year-round.
Since the 2005-06 edition of the event, the drop has been preceded by the playing of John Lennon's song Imagine. For 2011, the song began to be performed live; first by Taio Cruz, and then in 2012 by Cee Lo Green.
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Since 1996, an animated video countdown timer has appeared on the screen above the pole where the ball drops on New Year's Eve as well as the three screens at the bottom of the building. The clock has changed design since then, with occasional reuses. Here are the clock designs since 1996:
By tradition, the ball drop is ceremoniously started by the pressing of a ball-shaped button on the concert stage. (Note the ball is actually cued automatically by a computer running on a WWVB-set atomic clock, and is not affected by the Waterford Crystal button.) Usually, the mayor is joined with a special guest, selected due to his or her significance, to press that button. Sometimes, an entire group is invited. The following is a list of some past honorees since 1996. (Prior to the 1996-97 drop, Artkraft Strauss was responsible for pressing the button)
The average temperature at midnight in New York City since the ball dropping tradition began in 1907 is 33.7 °F (1 °C).
The coldest event was in 1917 when the temperature was 1 °F (−17 °C), the second coldest was 11 °F (−12 °C) in 1962. The warmest ball drop was 58 °F (14 °C) in both 1965 and 1972. It has snowed during the ball drop just seven times out of 104 events (one being light snow), 1926, 1934, 1948, 1952, 1961, 1967, and 2009 and it has rained multiple times.
Up to one million people go to watch the ball drop each year. New York Police Department (NYPD) exert strict control over the crowd so as to prevent crushes and stampedes. The technique used by NYPD is to divide Times Square up into sections, commonly referred to as "pens." As people arrive, usually in the afternoon, they are directed into the pens. NYPD starts with the pens closest to 43rd Street, and as those pens get full, closes them to further people and works their way back toward Central Park. Once inside the pen, people may leave, but will not be able to reenter the pen.
Also, access to Times Square is extremely limited during the course of the celebration. Those staying in hotels in the area need to prove to NYPD that they are in fact guests at those hotels. Also, no alcoholic beverages are permitted (as per NYC's open container laws), and there are no portable public restrooms available.
Several networks have aired coverage of the Times Square Ball Drop; as the event is held in the public square there is no rights or exclusive coverage. The most notable is ABC's New Year's Eve, created by Dick Clark and hosted by Clark until his death in 2012. Ryan Seacrest has served as primary host since 2005-06; the show has also featured West Coast segments hosted by singer Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas. Because of the special's prominence, ABC has been able to get exclusive rights to hold concerts in Times Square itself. As a result of Dick Clark's death, ABC might lose its exclusive rights to hold concerts in that location.
NBC also has coverage of the events under the name New Year's Eve with Carson Daly; previously a special edition of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (and before that, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) would air in this slot, but Leno has since ceded hosting duties to Daly, who hosts more conventional coverage. Since NBC cannot hold concerts in Times Square itself, it instead opts for concerts outside its studios at 30 Rockefeller Center and in Los Angeles.
Fox also has its own coverage of the New Year's Eve event, New Year's Eve Live, which started in 2003–04. Ryan Seacrest hosted the first two years; in 2005–06, Regis Philbin (who had filled in for Clark on ABC the year prior) took over as Seacrest went to ABC. Fox's host changes each year; previous hosts included Spike Feresten and Nancy O'Dell. Fox complements the Times Square coverage with All American New Year, which airs live in all time zones on sister network Fox News Channel and is hosted by Fox News anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly. Beginning with the 2012 celebration, Fox's musical guests will be oriented more toward country music, with the event being renamed American Country New Year's Eve Live and Rodney Carrington brought in as host.
For many years CBS was known for its coverage of the ball drop featuring Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians band (he had done so on CBS Radio Network since 1928 and on TV since 1956), live from The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and featuring the now famous rendition of "Auld Lang Syne". This coverage was also carried in Lombardo's native Canada on CBC. Lombardo died in November 1977; the Royal Canadians did the show for two more years (with Victor Lombardo substituting for his late older brother for 1977-78) but would disband after that. The broadcasts continued under the name Happy New Year, America beginning in 1979-80, still live from the Waldorf-Astoria (with taped segments added from Billy Bob's in Texas and Walt Disney World), with various guest hosts (among them Andy Williams, Brent Musburger, Gladys Knight, Christie Brinkley, Natalie Cole, Kermit the Frog and Lily Tomlin in character as "Ernestine the Telephone Lady"). The last broadcast was in 1995–96 and featured Montel Williams as host; in 1996, Disney pulled out of producing the program (and several other CBS holiday specials) when it bought ABC, and CBS decided to discontinue its New Year's coverage. CBS no longer covers the ball drop and instead opts for reruns of the Late Show with David Letterman. Some CBS affiliates show local ball drops or other local celebrations instead, but CBS O&O WBZ-TV in Boston takes its First Night Boston coverage as far as putting a small screen of the Times Square ball alongside the First Night celebrations on the broadcast. (Note that WBZ is the only TV station allowed to broadcast the First Night Boston events and that the Times Square picture in picture was only shown on TV.)
CNN also carries coverage of the festivities, as part of a more nationwide perspective on New Year celebrations. CNN's coverage, also named New Year's Eve Live, has most recently been hosted by Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin.
MTV also offers ball drop coverage, as their headquarters are in Times Square. This means they can hold concerts there, but they are held at the MTV Studios in Viacom's building rather than in the square itself. On December 31, 2010, they also offered a ball drop at Seaside Heights, New Jersey where Jersey Shore star Snooki was locked into a "hamster ball" and was dropped for the 60 second countdown to welcome 2011. Originally, it was planned for that drop to occur in Times Square. However, MTV was asked by city officials to conduct the drop elsewhere.