The New Year's Eve ball drop -- a tradition more than 100 years old

Times Square ball tweets for the first time 01:53

Organizers expect a million people will be in New York City's Times Square when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Bronx native, flips the switch to start the ball drop.

It's a tradition with a fascinating past.

 "This is the largest crystal ball in the world," said Jeff Strauss, president of Countdown Entertainment. "We're getting ready for New Year's Eve.  We've just installed all of the 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles with a new pattern."

Every year the ball tells a different story. Strauss is excited about this year's theme -- the gift of imagination.

"One of the triangles is actually imagined by a young girl, a 12-year-old girl, at St. Jude's Research Hospital, and this was her design, which is a rose, and her message of hope and beauty and positiveness for the new year," he said.

New this year, fans can follow the six-ton ball on Twitter "@times square ball".

"The ball actually tweets," Strauss said. "And we have people all over the world, we have 180 countries, who participate by tweeting with the ball, watching our webcast, and counting down with us at midnight."

The tradition of the ball drop began more than a century ago.

"It used to be called the Long Acre Square in the 19th century, and it was a place of actually making carriages but also a red light district," said architectural historian, Gwendolyn Wright.

Strauss says the very first celebration was a publicity stunt by the publisher of The New York Times in 1904.

"The first two years they had fireworks, but the fireworks would rain down on the revelers below, burning their heads, so they had to come up with a new idea," Strauss said. "And they used a maritime tradition of lowering a time ball at noon and matched it with a new technology, the electric light bulb, to create a lighted time ball that would drop at midnight to mark the beginning of the new year."

Said Wright, "It's estimated there were about 200,000 people at that first ball drop in 1907.  That was a pretty large number."

The audience has grown considerably since then.

"We have a million people in Times Square, over 150 million Americans will be counting with us, and over a billion people around the world will see this live, or on news coverage," Strauss said. 

That worldwide audience makes this 25-story building the most valuable property for advertising in the world."