The Electronics Behind a Century's Long Tradition: The Times Square Ball Drop

For some, celebrating the new year involves a bounty of fireworks and pyrotechnics. For others, the sound of clinking glasses or smashed plates fills the air as we say goodbye to the previous year and welcome the new one. While there are numerous ways people across the globe welcome in the New Year, few are as prominent as the celebrations held in Time Square. Each year, approximately a million New Yorkers (as well as travelers from across the Hudson and further) gather in Time Square for celebrations and counting down until the New Year, with the Government of New York City stating that a billion more watch on through broadcast and streaming services. This being said, there have been quite a few changes to the celebrations over the years, with the Times Square Ball seeing multiple iterations incorporating more advanced and customizable electrical and electronic components with each new design. Let’s first trace back a few generations to see how this tradition has evolved over the past century.    


History of the Times Square Ball

The first iteration of the Times Square ball consisted of a mixture of wood and iron, adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs. Its introductory drop took place in 1907, caused at least in part by the legislature enacted the same year barring fireworks from being set off in the area.  A law that would set in motion a century-long tradition, that while local in its beginnings, now is known across the globe. This initial iteration of the Times Square Ball had been used for over a decade before the successor was designed and implemented.  











In the years between 1920 and 1980, there would be minor tweaks in the construction of the Times Square Ball, shifting over to a full wrought iron construction, then to an aluminum construction.

This period would also include the only lapses in the actual ball drop, as in 1942 and 1943 the ball drop was suspended due to the wartime lights "dimout" in New York City. Even still crowds gathered in Times Square to celebrate the welcoming of the New Year. 


Throughout the 80s, the aluminum Times Square Ball would be tweaked to include red light bulbs and a green stem. This due to the “I Love New York” marketing campaign, these years would see the ball Transformed into a big apple, for the Big Apple.


The 90s would see the beginning of the digitization of the Times Square Ball. This being the third most recent iteration at the time of writing, whilst still on the aluminum frame, the ball now included aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobes, and computer controls.  


A 21st Century Ball

Photographed by: ABC News


To usher in not only the new year, but a new millennium, something special was in order. The Times Square Ball was redesigned from the ground up, now incorporating modern technology intertwined with the classic high-quality materials. Both Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting set out to merge both the aesthetics and materials of the past with the technological advancements of the future.


In 2007, for the 100th anniversary of the Times Square ball drop, Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting partnered once again and designed the LED crystal ball, which is currently in use for celebrations. Gone were the incandescent and halogen bulbs that resembled those of the past century, and in their place viewers around the world now gaze at over 32000 Philips Luxeon LEDs encased behind over 2000 Waterford crystal triangles. These new LEDs not only greatly increased the brightness in comparison to their predecessors, but also are completely computer programmable, meaning that organizers can plan complex and highly detailed displays with access to a range of over 16 million colours. The geodesic dome is now a permanent fixture on the roof of One Times Square, due to its weight of nearly six tons as well as being twelve feet in diameter. However, it is still reserved solely for New Year's festivities.


Whether you’re looking to create a Times Square Ball of your own, or setting up a similarly intricate lighting display, Sycor Technology is here to supply you with the wire and cable you need to see your plan through to completion. Sourcing your desired components can be as easy as a message, so let Sycor connect you with the products you need. For any questions or inquiries, reach out to one of our experts directly at [email protected].



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