The exquisite Times Square Ball designed for the new millennium in 2000 is now on display at the Waterford Crystal Factory in Waterford, Ireland.
Photograph by Hunter Kahn, courtesy Wikimedia. This work has been released into the public domain by its author.

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    On December 31, 1904, New Yorkers first celebrated New Year’s Eve in Times Square. About 200,000 people showed up for that first celebration. Today, more than a million people—mostly tourists—crowd the busy plaza every December 31.  
     
    The first Times Square celebrations were marked with fireworks displays. Safety concerns ended that tradition in 1907. That year, the New York Times, which originally sponsored the celebrations, began dropping a “time ball” signifying the new year. Time balls are an ancient signaling device used by mariners. A worker at a facility on land would drop a large metal ball perched atop a tall building at a specific time, allowing sailors to set their chronometers at sea. Time can be used to determine longitude, so time balls not only told sailors the time, they also allowed mariners to know their position and navigate successfully.  
     
    The first Times Square time ball was made of wood, metal, and lit with incandescent light bulbs. Today, the ball is made of metal, crystal, and lit by LEDs.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    celebrate Verb

    to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.

    chronometer Noun

    timepiece designed to be accurate in extreme conditions of wind, water, and pressure.

    crystal Noun

    type of glass in which a material (traditionally, lead oxide) is added to improve the glass' appearance. Also called lead crystal or crystal glass.

    determine Verb

    to decide.

    device Noun

    tool or piece of machinery.

    facility Noun

    a building or room that serves a specific function.

    fireworks Plural Noun

    controlled explosive devices that produce a striking display of light and loud noise, used for signaling or as part of a celebration.

    incandescent Adjective

    a type of electric light in which light is produced by a filament heated by electric current.

    LED Noun

    (light emitting diode) device (semiconductor) that emits light when an electric current passes through it.

    longitude Noun

    distance east or west of the prime meridian, measured in degrees.

    Encyclopedic Entry: longitude
    mariner Noun

    sailor.

    metal Noun

    category of elements that are usually solid and shiny at room temperature.

    navigate Verb

    to plan and direct the course of a journey.

    perch Verb

    to sit or rest on a tree branch or other elevated position.

    plaza Noun

    urban public square or open space.

    signal Verb

    to communicate using signs.

    signify Verb

    to signal or represent.

    sponsor Verb

    to support and finance.

    time ball Noun

    ancient device made of a large ball dropped from support on a tall building at a predetermined time, signaling the time for ships at sea.

    tourist Noun

    person who travels for pleasure.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.