Were you one of the billion people to stay up New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop over Times Square? Do you know who started this idiocy? The New York Times, that’s who.
At the turn of the 20th century, the NYT bought property in what was then called Long Acre Square (after London’s carriage district). Originally, the square was a large open horse market with dreary tenements surrounding it. But once electricity and public transit were installed, the area became a hot market. In 1903, the New York Times started building the second largest tower in the city at the time. Once it was complete, it apparently took very little arm twisting for the newspaper to persuade the city to rename the square after itself, and Times Square came into existence. In celebration, in 1904, the Times threw a huge block party on New Year’s Eve, well, huge for back then, anyway. The theater district consisted of maybe one theater, but they celebrated with music and fireworks every New Year’s Eve—until the city banned fireworks in 1907. In their place, an engineer built a 700 lb wood and iron ball illuminated by a hundred lights to drop from a flagpole at midnight. And the tradition began!
Within a decade, the Times outgrew its skyscraper. That towering, skinny NYT office building offered prime real estate for advertising, especially for the theaters crowding into the area. A giant news ticker went up in 1928, and ultimately, the huge sides of the building started the trend of Times Square flashing advertisements. Today the building is mostly empty but the party and the crystal ball drop have become world famous. Nothing like a good party for creating a tourist attraction!
Did you watch the ball drop? If not, how did you celebrate the new year?
Image: Bernt Rostad from Oslo, Norway