History of New Year's At Time's Square

New York in 1904 was a city on the verge of tremendous changes - and, not surprisingly, many of those changes had their genesis in the bustling energy and thronged streets of Times Square. Several innovations that would soon completely transform the Crossroads of the World debuted in 1904: the invention of the neon light, the opening of the city's first subway line - and the first-ever celebration of New Year's Eve in Times Square.

 

This inaugural bash commemorated the official opening of the new headquarters of The New York Times. The newspaper's owner, German Jewish immigrant Alfred Ochs, had successfully lobbied the city to rename Longacre Square, the district surrounding his paper's new home, in honor of the famous publication. The impressive Times Tower, marooned on a tiny triangle of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42nd Street, was at the time Manhattan's second-tallest building -- the tallest if measured from the basement up.

 

The building was the focus of an unprecedented New Year's Eve celebration. Ochs spared no expense to ensure a party for the ages. An all-day street festival culminated in a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower, and at midnight the joyful sound of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from the over 200,000 attendees could be heard miles away.

 

Two years later, the city banned the fireworks display - but Ochs was undaunted. He arranged to have a large, illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908. In 1914, The New York Times outgrew Times Tower and relocated to 229 West 43rd Street.  By then, New Year's Eve in Times Square was already a permanent part of our cultural fabric.

 

In 1942 and 1943, the glowing Ball was temporarily retired due to the wartime "dimout" of lights in New York City. The revelers who still gathered in Times Square in those years greeted the New Year with a moment of silence followed by chimes ringing out from Times Tower.

 

Today, New Year's Eve in Times Square is a bona fide international phenomenon. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people still gather around the Tower, now known as One Times Square, and wait for hours in the cold of a New York winter for the famous Ball-lowering ceremony.

Thanks to satellite technology, a worldwide audience estimated at over one billion people watches the ceremony each year. The lowering of the Ball has become the world's symbolic welcome to the New Year.

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