Watching the Ball Drop — the Nautical Origins of a New Yr’s Custom

The USNO Millennium Time Ball

Tonight, many will watch in particular person, on-line, or on tv, as a jeweled ball drops in Occasions Sq. in New York Metropolis at precisely midnight to mark the arrival of the New Yr, 2022. In previous years, the group in Occasions Sq. numbered as much as 1,000,000 folks. This yr, because of the pandemic, there will likely be just a few thousand in attendance.

However, the ball will nonetheless drop at midnight. The six-ton Waterford crystal ball coated in 32,276 LED lights won’t really be “dropped” however lowered from a flag pole on the roof of One Occasions Sq.. In New York Metropolis, the custom dates again to 1907. However the place did the custom of dropping a ball to mark the time originate?  

The observe dates again to 1829 and was associated to serving to sailors calculate their place at sea. Right here is an up to date repost.

When out of sight of land, a navigator can decide latitude, his place north or south on the globe,  by measuring the altitude of the solar utilizing solely a sextant and a nautical almanac.  To find out longitude, his place east or west, nonetheless, a navigator should examine the time of the regionally noticed midday with the time on his chronometer, normally set to the time in Greenwich, UK. The primary chronometers rugged sufficient to be used at sea have been developed by John Harrison and others within the mid to late 18th century. By the nineteenth century, marine chronometers have been adopted on naval ships and plenty of service provider vessels.

However how may a navigator simply and exactly set his ship’s chronometers? To resolve this drawback, the Royal Navy’s Captain Robert Wauchope invented the time ball in 1829.  It was a big ball hoisted to the highest of a pole on a constructing simply seen to ships within the harbor. The ball can be lowered at a exact time, normally midday or 1PM. When the navigators on ships within the native harbor noticed the ball starting to drop they might use it to set their chronometers to the precise time.

The primary time ball was erected in Portsmouth in 1829, adopted by a time ball on the Greenwich Observatory in 1833 and on the US Naval Observatory in Washington in 1845. Quickly, time balls have been put in in ports all over the world.

In 1877, Western Union put in a time ball on its Manhattan headquarters, at Broadway and Dey Road. Its firing sign got here from the Naval Observatory in Washington, by way of a devoted telegraph line, which directed the ball to drop at midday New York time, or about 11:48 a.m. in D.C.  At a distance, the ball gave the impression to be a stable ball. It really was made up of a dozen skinny semicircles product of sheet copper, half of which have been crescents. This allowed for minimal wind resistance when dropped.

On April 5, 1913, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse was put in on prime of the Seamen’s Church Institute and neglected New York Harbor from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. From 1913 to 1967, a time ball on prime of the lighthouse would drop down the pole to sign twelve midday to the ships within the harbor. In 1976, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse was moved to the nook of Pearl and Fulton Streets, close to the doorway to the South Road Seaport, in downtown Manhattan.

With the appearance of radio time indicators within the Twenties, the time balls grew to become out of date. However, the time balls on the Greenwich Observatory and the US Naval Observatory proceed to drop on daily basis to provide each locals and ships on the rivers a way of setting their watches. And, when the ball drops at midnight yearly at Occasions Sq., whether or not watched by many or just a few, the bejeweled ball pays homage to Robert Wauchope’s invention, the time ball.

Completely happy New Yr to all.

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