Times Square on New Years Eve is unquestionably the place to be. It has become the official New Year’s Eve celebration complete with performances and a dramatic countdown. Would it surprise any of you to learn that the first New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square was in 1904? People have been flocking to Times Square to ring in the new year for over 100 years.
The first Times Square celebration was also to commemorate the official opening of the new headquarters of The New York Times. Planned by the paper’s owner Alfred Ochs, the celebration was marked by a day long celebration including an all day street festival and a fireworks display. Midnight brought cheering from the 200,000 attendees that could apparently be heard form 30 miles away. Previously, “the” place to be on New Year’s Eve was downtown at Trinity Church. However, this party was so successful that it soon replaced Trinity for the New Year’s Eve celebration.
Unfortunately, two years later the city banned the fireworks display. To replace it, Ochs arranged to have an illuminated 700-pound iron and wood ball lowered from the Times Tower, then the second tallest building in New York, flagpole at precisely midnight to mark the transition from 1907 to 1908. In 1914, The New York Times moved to 229 West 43rd Street, but the celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square had already become iconic and so did not move with the newspaper. The paper retained ownership of the Times Tower until 1961.
The lowering of the ball was a continuous tradition until 1942 and 1943 when the glowing ball wasn’t used due to the “dimout” of lights in New York City. Instead, the crowds who came to Times Square to celebrate those years brought in the New Year with a minute of silence, followed by chimes ringing out from noise trucks parked at the base of the tower. The tradition was restored the following year.
Today the New Year’s Eve Times Square celebration has become an international phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of people gather in Times Square to ring in the New Year while an estimated one billion people worldwide watch the party at home.