Arts

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

NPR | Dec. 31, 2012 10:56 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 31, 2012 12:24 p.m.

Contributed By:

Claire O'Neill

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 a ball icosahedral geodesic sphereon New Year’s Eve. And I found myself digging around for old photos, hoping to get a better sense of its design history.

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 lightbulbs.

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 facelift 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!

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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