Three...Two...One...Happy New Year!
Where did the idea for a New Year's Eve ball drop come from?
Hi! I’m Joey, the creator of Fun Fact Friyay, the newsletter for curious people. Today’s newsletter is best enjoyed while counting down from ten.
Today’s fact: The big ball that drops in Times Square for New Year’s Eve was inspired by sailors.
This is the last Fun Fact Friyay of the year! Whether you’re sad to see 2023 go or can’t wait to punt it into the abyss, we’re wrapping things up in style. Thanks for coming along on the ride.
Even if you don’t live in New York City, the ball dropping in Times Square is ubiquitous with ringing in the new year. Dick Clark hosted “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” from 1972 to 2006, and Ryan Seacrest now hosts “Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” which is not at all a mouthful.
As people freeze their tuchuses off and just before confetti falls from the sky, a large ball drops down a flagpole, and the countdown begins. When it hits zero, everyone cheers and “Auld Lang Syne” starts blasting from speakers hidden throughout the city.
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Times Square held its first New Year’s Eve celebration in 1904, but it didn’t feature any balls at all. Walter F. Palmer, the chief electrician of The New York Times, had seen a time ball on the Western Union Telegraph Building. He thought that would be a nifty thing to add to the New Year’s Eve celebration.
And so, on December 31, 1907, the first ball drop in Times Square took place.
The original ball was 700 pounds, though the design has been modified over the years. The 2009 celebration saw a gigantic 11,875-pound ball make an appearance.
But the modern-day time ball was created nearly 80 years before the first drop in Times Square.
Robert Wauchope, a captain in England’s Royal Navy, designed a time ball in Portsmouth, England, in 1829. The balls were a way for sailors to synchronize their times without having to leave the ship.
Another time ball was built in 1833 in Greenwich, England — and you can even visit it today. The ball starts rising up a flagpole atop the Flamsteed House at 12:55 pm local time, reaches the top at 12:58 pm, and starts its descent exactly at 1 pm.
If you happen to be looking at the ball and holding a watch or timepiece at the same time, you can ensure your device is set correctly. And that’s really all we can ask for.
So, when the ball drops this year, give a little “land ho!” shout in honor of the origin of the time ball.
See you in 2024 — happy new year!