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An Abridged Design History Of The Ball (And Can You Name Its Real Shape?)

Think about how cool you'll sound at the New Year's Eve party when you announce while shoving up your glasses: "Um, technically, it's not a ball. It's an icosahedral geodesic sphere."

The Atlantic recently gave a brief history of the tradition of dropping an ball icosahedral geodesic sphere on New Year's Eve. And I found myself digging around for old photos, hoping to get a better sense of its design history.

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    New Year's Eve, 1963. This would be the third ball design, which replaced previous iterations made of wood and iron. This one, introduced in 1955, lasted until an upgrade in 1995.
    Truman Moore/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image
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    Russ Brown, superintendent of One Times Square, checks his watch a few hours before the ball is to be hoisted into position, Dec. 31, 1980. Brown officiated over the ball dropping for 16 years, and retired with the entry of 1981.
    David Handschuh/AP
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    For several years beginning in 1981, the ball was outfitted with red lights and a stem in keeping with the "I Love New York" campaign. Then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch gives a thumbs up as he tests the lights in '81.
    Lederhandler/AP
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    Technicians replace bulbs on the ball. This was the last appearance of the ball in this form before it was upgraded with aluminum skin and rhinestones in 1995.
    Mark D. Phillips/AFP/Getty Images
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    The newly refurbished 6-foot-high ball was given strobes, halogen lamps, a fog machine and 12,000 rhinestones in 1995.
    Mark D. Philips/AFP/Getty Images
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    Steven Goldmacher of Philips Lighting Co. screws in a light bulb, Dec. 20, 1999. The 1,070-pound crystal ball, 6 feet in diameter, made its debut at the millennial celebration.
    Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty Images
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    One of the 72 new Waterford Crystal triangles that were installed in the 2000 ball. A total of 504 crystal triangles covered the ball that was dropped at the turn of the millennium.
    Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
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    The millennial crystal at its unveiling in 1999. In addition to the 504 triangular crystals, it contained 600 multicolored light bulbs, 96 strobe lights and 92 rotating pyramid mirrors.
    Louis M. Lanzano/AP
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    In 2001, the crystal panels were engraved in memory of the World Trade Center and to those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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    A technician installs one of 72 new Waterford Crystal triangles, featuring the "Hope for Fellowship" design, in 2005. A total of 504 crystal triangles with various designs from past years make up the exterior of the orb.
    Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
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    Technicians install some of the 72 new Waterford crystal "Hope for Peace" triangles in 2006.
    Kathy Willens/AP
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    To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Times Square ball drop, the ball was displayed at Macy's. This iteration was designed and crafted by Waterford Crystal artisans in Ireland.
    Diane Bondareff/AP
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    A new ball was built for the 100th anniversary of the ball drop in 2007 — twice as bright as its predecessor and color-enabled with LED technology.
    Kathy Willens/AP
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    The anniversary ball was only used once. It was replaced the next year with a similar model twice its size.
    Kathy Willens/AP
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    Technicians install some of the 2,668 Waterford Crystal triangles on the 2009 ball.
    Countdown Entertainment/Ian Hardy/AP
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    The only thing that makes less sense than dropping a ball on New Year's Eve is Lady Gaga dressing as the ball to officiate the ball-dropping.
    Charles Sykes/AP
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    Because the current ball is so heavy (weighing 11,875 pounds) a new pole was built for it, shown here in 2012.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images

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The first ball, designed in 1907, was made of wood and 100 light bulbs, and measured 5 feet in diameter. For the sake of comparison: Today's ball is more than twice as wide, weighs 11,875 pounds, and is covered in 32,256 LED lights. Oh, and is made of Waterford Crystal. So how did it evolve from wood and iron to a literal crystal ball?

In between these two designs were five other iterations, according to this Times Square info site. Here's a quick outline:

1907: The first ball is built of wood, iron and 100 light bulbs.

1920: It's replaced by a 400-pound iron ball. This ball is used every year until 1955 — except for 1942 and 1943, during WWII, when a ball is not dropped.

1955: An aluminum ball weighing 140 pounds is introduced — with 80 additional light bulbs.

1995: The ball is upgraded with aluminum skin, computerized controls and rhinestones.

1999: A new ball is built just for the millennial celebration.

2007: The ball gets a face-lift with LED lights for the 100th anniversary of the drop ritual.

2008: Apparently it wasn't big enough. A new ball, twice the size of the 2007 version, is unveiled.

Unfortunately, my search for early photos of those first two designs has turned up dry. If anyone out there has visual evidence, please leave it in the comments!

Happy New Year!

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