The Story Behind Times Square's New Year's Eve Celebration

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Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

This New Year's Eve, Times Square won't just be a global destination for ringing in a new year; it will be time to celebrate the start of a whole new decade. As always, the festivities will be marked by the descent of the iconic New Year's Eve ball, an 11,875-pound sphere decked out with 2688 crystal triangles, 32,256 lights, and its own Twitter account with more than 19,500 followers. But before the champagne starts flowing and the countdown kicks off to a proverbial clean slate, let's take a look back at the history of this annual celebration.

When did Times Square get built?

In 1904, construction was completed on a 25-story skyscraper on the triangle of land created by the intersections of 42nd Street, 43rd Street, 7th Avenue, and Broadway. It was to be the new headquarters of The New York Times. That same year, the city had plans to open the first set of underground subway lines with 28 different stations. Grand Central Station was also located on 42nd Street, and a number of stations followed Broadway’s route through the city. It was, supposedly, an attempt to avoid nominal confusion regarding the station at the base of the Times’s tower that first led to the suggestion that the city should change the name of the surrounding area from “Longacre Square” to “Times Square.”

Reports differ as to whether the idea to rename the relatively underutilized collection of intersections originally came from Adolph S. Ochs, the publisher of the Times from 1896 to 1935, or from August Belmont Jr., President of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. Regardless of who first thought to apply the paper’s name from the building to the geography, in early April, the Board of Aldermen approved the resolution and, on April 8, 1904, the signature of Mayor George B. McClellan made it official. The next morning, a headline on Page 2 of the Times read ''Times Square Is the Name of City's New Centre.''

How Times Square became a New Year's Eve destination.

As 1904 drew to a close, Ochs wanted to celebrate the paper’s impending move in January to their recently completed Times Tower, officially bearing the address of One Times Square. In prior years, the city had celebrated New Year’s Eve at Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan, where the ringing of bells marked the change in the calendar. But sparing no expense, Ochs officially launched a new tradition with an opulent celebration, to the delight of 200,000 attendees. Fanciulli’s Concert Band, a group of featured performers who played at the St. Louis World’s Fair earlier in the year, provided the soundtrack to the final moments of 1904. The Times touted its own publicity stunt the next morning in an article with a colorful headline that proclaimed: “BIG NEW YEAR FETE AT TIMES SQUARE: Mammoth Crowd Centres There for Celebration.”

“As the old year died and 1905 was born the news flared out from the tower of the Times Building to the north and to the south, in giant figures which took on all the colors of the rainbow and bore the tidings to thousands who waited and watched over many miles of territory,” the article read. The rainbow came in the form of fireworks that transformed the building into “a torch to usher in the new born, funeral pyre for the old.”

When did Times Square start dropping a ball on New Year's Eve?

New York rang in the new year with fireworks as 1905 turned into 1906, and again as 1906 turned into 1907. But then, in 1907, the city banned the fireworks display for safety reasons, and Ochs had to find a different means to signify the city’s annual rebirth. In a January 1, 1908 article, the Times first described what would become the event's signature tradition: “At ten minutes to midnight the whistles on every boiler in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and the waters thereof began to screech. Tens of thousands stood watching the electric ball and then—it fell.”

The new ceremony was chosen to mimic the ball drop at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, which has signaled 1 p.m. for Londoners and ship captains on the Thames since 1833. There, the object of focus is a simple bright red ball. But for Times Square, Ochs commissioned something a little more elaborate: a behemoth 700-pound wood-and-iron creation, five feet in diameter and illuminated by 100 25-watt bulbs. It was built by Russian immigrant Jacob Starr while he worked for Benjamin Strauss in a family-owned sign making company, Strauss Signs. Strauss and Starr later formed Artkraft Strauss, which produced the ball drop through 1996.

Notable Exceptions.

The ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve has been a remarkably consistent tradition since that first voyage on the precipice of 1908—with two notable exceptions. The New York Times noted the melancholy of the event’s first absence: “New Year’s Eve in Times Square had a weird quality last night …There was a note of sluggishness, an absence of real gayety. The restless thousands lacked zest. War somehow laid its hand on the celebration and tended to mute it. At midnight, the crowd watched in vain for the glowing white ball to slide down the flag staff atop the New York Times tower.”

That was the story on January 1, 1943, after a wartime dim-out on lights replaced the glowing orb and a respectful moment of silence hung heavy in place of cheers or jubilation. A similar story the following year noted another New Year's Eve darkened by the war.

The New Year’s Ball Ever Since.

The iconic symbol has seen several upgrades through the past century-plus. In 1920, an entirely wrought-iron version lobbed 300 pounds off the original weight. Aluminum got the heft down to roughly 200 pounds in 1955. The same aluminum construction got a makeover in the early 1980s, when red lights and a green stem turned the classic orb into a Big Apple in accordance with the “I <3 NY” campaign. A short-lived white ball sat at the center of the ceremony from 1987 through 1998, during which time computer controls replaced manual labor. Waterford Crystal designed the Millennium Ball for the 2000 ceremony, which has undergone aesthetic adjustments each year since.

As for One Times Square, the original raison d'etre of the whole shebang? The New York Times outgrew the building in 1913, and these days, apart from a Walgreens on the first floor and the offices of the New Year's Eve production company Countdown Entertainment on the 22nd floor, the skyscraper is completely empty. But it remains the focus of the nation’s gaze every New Year’s Eve.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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30 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate In October

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October—the spookiest month of the year—is upon, and with it, a calendar full of offbeat holidays. Between your autumnal walks, horror movie marathons, and oh, National Cat Day on October 29 (which is basically the year's most important holiday here at Mental Floss), see if you can squeeze in a few of these unconventional celebrations.

1. October 1: World Vegetarian Day

It's easy enough to eat meat-free for a day, but this celebration is intended to kick off a month of vegetarian awareness and encourage more lasting change.

2. October 2: World Farm Animals Day

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This may seem at odds with World Vegetarian Day, until you consider that this is actually a day to protest the farm in farm animal and the cruel conditions it implies.

3. October 2: National Custodian Day

Because really, we should be celebrating them every day.

4. October 2: World Smile Day

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If the calendar says you have to do it, you have to do it.

5. October 4: Ten-Four Day

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The fourth day of the 10th month of the year is the day the world celebrates radio operators, to which we say, “Ten-Four.”

6. October 4: National Ships-In-Bottles Day

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Someone spent a lot of time making this art happen, so let's take a little time to appreciate it.

7. October 8: National Pierogi Day

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On this day in 1952, pierogies were first delivered to a grocery store in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and we’ve been devouring them ever since.

8. October 10: National Handbag Day

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We carry them around, but in many ways, it’s the handbags that carry us.

9. October 10: National Cake Decorating Day

Making a boxed cake recipe and applying the frosting with a butter knife definitely counts.

10. October 11: Southern Food Heritage Day

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Sorry, but if you're not eating a plate of chicken and waffles like the one above (or something equally Southern) on October 11, you're doing it wrong.

11. October 14: International Top Spinning Day

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A good day to head to the toy store and take a spin.

12. October 15: National Grouch Day

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For those who love one, and those who are one.

13. October 15: Get Smart About Credit Day

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This American Bankers Association holiday is all about educating the public on credit—and if that stresses you out, you should probably be observing this quirky commemoration.

14. October 16: Dictionary Day

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October 16th is Noah Webster’s birthday, so take a break from your lackadaisical use of the English language, k?

15. October 17: Sweetest Day

Traditionally celebrated in the Midwest and Northeastern United States, Sweetest Day is a lot like Valentine's Day, which—depending on your outlook—is either a very good thing or a very bad thing.

16. October 19: Evaluate Your Life Day

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It’s time.

17. October 21: Hagfish Day

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These eel-shaped, slime-producing fish are fairly disgusting (seriously), but they're also kind of awesome. They have four hearts, have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and can feed through their skin. So while it might not be beautiful, the humble hagfish does deserve a little love and respect.

18. October 22: Smart Is Cool Day

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This is one that holiday that Mental Floss HQ can really get behind.

19. October 23: National Mole Day

Neither a tribute to the animal, nor a skin feature, nor an undercover spy, Mole Day honors Avogadro's Number, which is a basic measuring unit in chemistry.

20. October 23: Canning Day

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Nicolas Appert—the inventor of hermetically sealed food preservation and the "father of canning"—was born around this time circa 1750, and this day celebrates all things that come in jars. So, you know, put a lid on it.

21. October 25: Mother-in-Law Day

Unfortunately, this comes after National Forgiveness Day, so if you forget to give her a call it might be a long year before she forgives you.

22. October 26: National Mule Day

Now that you’ve celebrated moles, give a tip of the hat to mules—literal ones this time. On October 26, 1785, a pair of Spanish mules arrived in the U.S. as a gift from King Charles III. They’re said to have been the first mules bred in this country, by George Washington himself.

23. October 27: Cranky Co-workers Day

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Not that you have any of those ...

24. October 29: National Cat Day

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We know you don’t need a date in the calendar for this, but it makes your cat-filled Instagram feeds all that much more justified.

25. October 30: National Candy Corn Day

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Feel free to debate the merits of a holiday for this highly controversial, tricolored confection.

26. October 30: Checklists Day

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Put this one on your to-do list!

27. October 30: Create A Great Funeral Day

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Much of October is spent focused on ghouls and goblins, but this day is all about confronting the scariest thing of all: mortality. Between your apple orchard outings and haunted house trips, make sure you and your loved ones have a plan for after you've shuffled off this mortal coil. Happy October?

28. October 30: Haunted Refrigerator Night

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This offbeat holi-night is about exploring the darker corners and containers of your fridge. After all, we've all got some metaphorical skeletons lurking in there.

29. October 31: National Magic Day

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Halloween, shmalloween. This holiday is fittingly held on the anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini.

30. October 31: National Knock-Knock Jokes Day

There's no better time than the spookiest day of the year to tell some good (or bad) knock-knock jokes.