The idea of a timeball was actually born in 1832 when Robert Wauchope, a Royal Navy Officer, devised a way for those at sea to sync their marine chronometers (watches) with the shore. A giant ball would drop at a pre-arranged time that could be seen for miles around. Sailors, of course, probably didn't throw confetti or kiss another in glee (though they were quite possibly drunk). Here's the rest of our timeball timline in written form.
1904 - Times Square coined.
1907 - The First Ball drops. It's made of iron, wood, 100 25-watt bulbs...and it's 700lbs.
1917 - First billboard with moving lights goes up (in Times Square).
1920 - Ball goes 100% iron, nearly 50% lighter at 400lbs.
1927 - Oleg Vladimirovich Losev discovers LED to little fanfare.
1939 - WWII begins.
1942 - Losev dies of hunger.
1942-43 - Ball out for WWII "dimout," people partied but offered a moment of silence at new year
1951 - Xenon lamps first went on sale in Germany.
1955 - Ball drops to 150lbs. Suck it, Oprah.
1962 - American scientists discover LED.
1976 - Times Square is declared most dangerous area of New York City.
1979 - Disco dies.
1981-88 - Ball becomes an apple for "I Love New York" campaign. Red lights, green stem...subsequent puke color not specified.
1989 - New Yorkers realize apple ball is stupid, go back to normal design with white lights.
1993 - BMW is the first to use Xenon lights in cars.
2002 - Gizmodo is born.
1993-2003 - Times Square violent crime drops 85%.
1995 - Ball is computerized, aluminumized, covered in rhinestones, and strobe lights.
2000-07 - Ball is made of Waterford crystal, now weighing 1070lbs (which is the heaviest to date, nearly 10 times its weight in the '50s). Lighting includes one 10,000W Xenon lamp and 432 multi-colored (5 colors) bulbs. Plus, it features 144 strobe lights and 92 rotating pyramid mirrors—disco anyone?
2008 - Today we have the same base crystal ball, but it's been fitted with 9,576 Luxeon LEDs from Philips with 16.7 million programmable colors. Needless to say, that's a lot more visual variety than the 5 available colors of just a few years back.
Happy New Year everyone!
For more information, check out New York's own guide and timeline on Times Square and this helpful wiki. And a special thanks to our own resident Jesus Diaz, who stayed in for part of his New Year's celebrations to make us this badass graphic.