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Fun facts about New Year’s Eve ball drop

Three … two … one … Happy New Year! Every December 31, the planet prepares to put up a fresh calendar and roll into a new year. And for more than 100 years, a key component of New Year’s Eve traditions has been watching the “ball drop” in New York City’s Times Square. Every year, around a million often-chilly revelers gather at a triangle of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway, and 42nd Street to watch an illuminated orb announce the dawn of a new year —. with an estimated audience of 1 billion watching from the comfort of home. Here are six fun facts about the ball drop and how it came to be.

Early Ball Drops Were for Timekeeping

In 1761, John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, which revolutionized navigation for ships at sea by allowing navigators to determine longitude. But this advance required timepieces aboard ships to be set accurately. To help with this, British Royal Navy officer Robert Wauchope invented one of the earliest time balls, in Greenwich, England, in 1829. Viewable by telescope from the British coastline, it allowed navigators to observe the ball drop at 1 p.m. each day and then set their instruments with accuracy.

Before there was Times Square, New Yorkers gathered on Wall Street to hear the bells at Trinity Church ring out the old year and ring in the new. In Colonial times, “calling” on friends and neighbors was the fashionable thing to do, but by 1801 Trinity paid bell-ringers to mark the occasion, and by the middle of the 19th century, festivities around Trinity Church were common.

There Were Once Fireworks in Times Square

In December 1904, New York Times publisherAdolph Ochs celebrated the opening of the paper’s new headquarters, the Times Building, with a fireworks-filled NYE party. The resultant sparks and ash alarmed city officials, who instituted a ban on pyrotechnics three years later. The Times transitioned to an illuminated ball, initially lit by 216 electric lamps. Except for a “dimout” break during World War II in 1942 and 1943, the party has carried on.

There have been 7 different balls

The ball that welcomed 1908 in Times Square was the first of seven. The latest debuted in 2007 to mark the 100th anniversary of the event. The building is now known as One Times Square, and the ball, which sparkles throughout the year, weighs almost 6 tons and includes 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles, illuminated by 32,256 LEDs.

Television Expanded the Audience

The first televised ball drop was in 1956, on CBS. “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” debuted in 1972, and today a number of TV networks host live celebrity-filled New Year’s Eve specials from Times Square. Viewers around the world can watch the event online at starting at 6 p.m. Eastern time.

There Are Many Other Odd Drops

The ball drop in Times Square may be the biggest, but it’s far from the oddest. Other locations have joined the party with lighthearted and quirky events. Mobile, Alabama, drops a Moon Pie, including a noon drop so kids can participate. Atlanta unleashes an 800-pound fiberglass and foam peach at midnight, while Key West doubles down on the quirk by dropping a drag queen (from a ruby slipper, of course) and a conch shell from Hemingway’s favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s.

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