NYE Tradition Designed by Electrician

Posted on:December 28, 2015 2:29 pm CST

When a holiday tradition involves a giant ball lit with hundreds of lights slowly sliding down a giant pole at a specified time you KNOW an electrician probably had something to do with it…

Of course, I'm talking about the New Year's Eve Ball Drop in Times Square, and believe it or not, it was an electrician who came up with the whole ball drop idea!

NYC NYE Times Square Ball Drop 1Photograph by Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times/Redux

First, a little background…

The first Times Square New Year's Eve celebration happened in 1904, and wasn't entirely to celebrate the new year. It was actually part of an all-day street festival to commemorate the official opening of the New York Times headquarters (aka. the building from which the NYE ball is dropped today). For the inaugural event, the newspaper's owner, Adolph Ochs commissioned a huge fireworks show to mark the start of the new year. Ochs celebration was such a huge success that Times Square became the new place to be on New Year's Eve.

Then in 1907, the New York City Police Department banned fireworks in the city. Ochs, still wanting to celebrate with some kind of light display, so he looked to The New York Times' chief electrician, Walter Palmer, for ideas.

Palmer's idea came from an old maritime tradition – time balls. When standard time was created in the 1800's, sailors used what were called time balls to adjust their chronometers, or timepieces, while at sea. Using telescopes, they would watch for these time balls onshore to drop (typically around noon or 1pm) and adjust accordingly.

Palmer's design, which was built by the Artkraft Strauss sign company, was a 700-pound iron and wood time ball with 100 25-watt light bulbs attached to the surface. And at midnight, the first New Year's Eve ball descended down the repurposed mainmast of the battleship USS New Mexico to ring in the year 1908!

The New Year's Eve ball has gone through seven re-designs in its history. The ball that will drop in Times Square to ring in 2016 is 12 feet in diameter and weighs more than 11,000 pounds. The ball is covered in 2,688 crystal triangles that are illuminated by more than 32,000 LED lights!

NYC NYE Times Square Ball Drop - inside look 2Photo Courtesy: Countdown Entertainment

You can read more about the history of the New Year's Eve Ball and the Ball Drop by clicking here.