10 Surprising Facts About the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball Drop

As the world prepares to ring in a new year, more than one billion people are expected to tune in to watch a glowing orb drop down a pole to mark midnight in New York City.

The tradition going back more than a century features star performers, quirky customs and some practical challenges for the hundreds of thousands of revelers packed into Times Square.

Here’s what you may not have known about one of the world’s most highly-anticipated New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The concept began with sailing 

Starting in the 1800s, balls dropped from poles were used to signify the time to sailors out at sea. The first was installed in Portsmouth, England, followed by another ball in Greenwich, the namesake of Greenwich Mean Time, and that timekeeping ball is still dropped every day.

The first American time ball was installed atop the United States Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. in 1845.

The Times Square tradition started because of a fireworks ban 

The New York Times started the modern-day tradition of dropping a ball on a pole to mark the beginning of the new year, the official Times Square website said. Crowds had already been coming to Times Square, named after the newspaper’s skyscraper, to celebrate the new year, but a fireworks ban in 1907 threw a wrench in that plan.

Instead, the newspaper’s owner Adolph Ochs commissioned Ukrainian immigrant and metalworker Jacob Starr to create an illuminated 700 lbs (317 kg) iron and wood ball to be lowered from the flagpole of the Times Tower.

The ball was lowered by hand before midnight and then an electrician turned a switch to light up a sign displaying the numbers of the year in lights, a novelty at the time, Starr’s granddaughter told CNN. Waiters in nearby establishments also wore battery-powered “1908” top hats that they lit up at midnight.

The tradition took a two-year break  

The ball went out of commission for two years, in 1942 and 1943, during World War II, Times Square’s website said. Crowds still gathered for a minute of silence followed by chimes ringing from trucks parked at the Times Tower.

The ball weighs more than a car 

The modern day ball stretches 12 ft. (three and a half meters) in diameter and weighs 11,875 lbs (5,386 kg). That’s between two to three times as much as the average weight of a car in the U.S. in 2022, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The ball’s not the only heavy item on stage—the four numerals to spell out 2024 together also weigh approximately 1,160 lbs (526 kg). The “0” weighs in at 380 lbs. (172 kg), the “2” at 250 lbs. (113 kg), and the “4” at 280 lbs. (127).

It takes hundreds of workers hours to clean up after the event

This year, 200 sanitation workers are expected to hit the streets and take about six hours to clean up the confetti and trash left behind by the crowds.

Literally tons of trash accumulates, with the NYC Department of Sanitation telling Untapped New York that it picked up more than 60 tons (60,000 kg) of confetti, big party hats, noisemakers, sunglasses and more over the 2021 to 2022 New Year’s Eve.

Confetti, hats, and rain ponchos littered the street on Jan. 1, 2023, following the Times Square ball drop to ring in the new year. <span class="copyright">YUKI IWAMURA—Getty Images</span>
Confetti, hats, and rain ponchos littered the street on Jan. 1, 2023, following the Times Square ball drop to ring in the new year. YUKI IWAMURA—Getty Images

The ball’s crystals have special meanings 

The ball is covered with 2,688 crystal triangles, made by Waterford Crystal, measuring between four and six inches (10 to 15 cm) per side, according to the Times Square website. They are then bolted to 672 LED modules and illuminated by 32,256 LEDs.

Each crystal triangle has a special pattern with a different meaning, featuring 192 each of nine symbols—the Gift of Love overlapping hearts, the Gift of Wisdom a wheel, the Gift of Happiness a sun image, the Gift of Goodwill three pineapples, the Gift of Harmony a small rosette, the Gift of Serenity butterflies above a meadow, the Gift of Kindness a circle of rosettes, the Gift Of Wonder a faceted starburst and the Gift of Fortitude diamond cuts on either side of a crystal pillar.

The remaining 960 Gift of Imagination triangles are a series of intricate wedge cuts.

Wishes written on confetti are dropped from rooftops 

At midnight, 3,000 lbs. (1,360 kg) of confetti is dropped from the rooftops of buildings over Times Square by hundreds of volunteers. Anyone in or visiting New York City was welcome to pen their wish and put it on a “Wishing Wall” before Dec. 25. People across the world were able to get involved prior to Dec. 28 by submitting a wish online, which would then be printed on confetti ahead of New Year’s Eve.

Revelers pay up to $12,500 to eat at a restaurant with a view 

While it’s free to stand in Times Square and watch the ball drop, restaurants on the square are offering steep packages for food and a view from the warmth of their establishments.

The Marriott Marquis hotel charges $12,500 for its Prime VIP Couple's Package, which offers an open bar, dinner buffet, hors d'oeuvres, a bottle of champagne and guaranteed seating next to floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Times Square.

Even family-friendly chain staple Olive Garden is charging $450 for its New Year’s Eve party, with a buffet, open bar, DJ and dancing, and champagne toast.

Some people take drastic measures to ensure they maintain their viewing spot

There are no portable restrooms in Times Square for the event, leaving revelers on their own to find a restroom. Restaurants likely won’t let thousands of people in to use the toilet for free without buying something, and leaving could mean losing a viewing spot someone waited hours in line to get. The result? People have said they wear adult diapers.

Security is tight, especially this year 

Everyone coming into the square goes through security screening. The New York Police Department uses 1,200 security cameras for the event and stations thousands of officers in Times Square, real estate website 6sqft reported.

Security is especially tight this year, after a 19-year-old man with a machete injured three police officers last year near Times Square. The prosecutors who charged him said he committed the attack “in the name of radical Islamic jihad.”

This year, the FBI has issued a general warning about the threat of violence at New Year’s Eve and other festive winter holiday events because of the Israel-Hamas war. The NYPD expanded its security screening zone to also prepare for potential protests related to the war, the Gothamist reported.

Contact us at letters@time.com.