The Technological History Behind The NYE Ball

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Ever since 1907, New York City has dropped a version of of the New Year’s Ball on One Time Square. Originally, the ball tied the maritime tradition of lighthouses with the new invention of electricity to show the latest technology to the world. One hundred 25-watt bulbs descended down on the area, and the crowd marveled at the bright beacon that welcomed the new year.

Fast forward to December 31, 2010. This year’s New Year’s Eve Ball is nearly six tons (11,875 pounds to be exact) and 12 feet in diameter. It is the largest crystal ball in existence with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles covering the ball and uses 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs as an environmentally-friendly and cost effective way to light the Manhattan skyline. This 2011 ball will be carrying a special message: Let there be Love, emblazoned by 288 Waterford crystals. Over a billion people in the world will tune in to the Times Square New Year’s Eve broadcast through their television, radio or computer in over 190 different countries this year.

“It’s a beautiful design of a cascade of hearts. At the end of the year, it represents a patchwork of hopes and dreams,” President of Countdown Entertainment Jeff Straus said. He joked that his job was to “represent the ball.”

There’s actually only been seven New Year’s Eve balls to head the celebration. The first ball, made out of iron and wood, weighted 400 pounds. Then came a 700-pound iron ball that lasted until the 1950s. The aluminum ball that followed remained until 1999, although in 1995 it was “changed” into the famous “I Love New York” ball. After came the Millennium Ball, a rhinestone bedazzled glitter ball lit by halogen lamps. In 2007, they experimented with LED technology before converting to a full LED ball in 2008. After switching to the full LED ball, the ball gained 90 percent efficiency, saved an additional 30 percent in electricity from the year before and quadrupled the brightness since 2007 which helped especially because of all the lights in Times Square. “We’re competing against all these new LED signs,” Foley said. “It’s like Blade Runner here with all this LED scene.

Changing to an LED ball was not only more green, the decrease in electricity costs allows the city to host the ball on top of One Times Square, where 100,000 visitors marvel at the sparkling ball all year. In tune with the changes, the 2011 ball will be lit completely off the grid by bike pedal-generated electricity contributed by those who visited the exhibit and pedaled at the station. As for who’s in charge of the ball when and after it drops, Foley says it’s a team of about six people who operate and take care of the ball year round. Now completely computer controlled, they don’t need that many people to guide the ball as it comes down. “I’d love to keep this ball until I retire,” he said. “But, there’s going to be a whole lot of new lighting technology in the upcoming years.”

“The one thing I do know is we’re not changing the size of the ball,” he added laughing.

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