f an alien were to land on Earth tomorrow and asked you to explain our New Year's Eve customs, would you be able to tell them why we all gather around a giant, shiny ball and watch it drop? Probably not. To us, it just doesn't make any obvious sense.
But there is actually an interesting reason behind this tradition. It dates back several hundred years, and once you learn how it started, the whole Times Square New Year's celebration is going to make a whole lot more sense.
The very first "time ball" (as they're called) was dropped on New Year's in New York in 1907.
And it was then, over a hundred years ago, that the modern tradition came to be. However, the time ball dropped in New York was far from the first dropped in history…
Public time-telling began in 1335 when churches began tolling bells every hour.
Most cities kept their own time and, honestly, people didn’t really care how accurate it was.
But while people on land didn't really care what time it was, ship captains at sea needed to be able to tell time more precisely.
Famous clockmaker John Harrison developed a super accurate chronometer in 1761. This invention would do wonders for people at sea helping them to track time and navigate more successfully.
However, they would often end up out of sync with each other, and captains would end up operating on different clocks.
That wasn’t ideal, so they had to develop a way to help ships’ captains remain on the same clock.
And that’s why the time ball was invented.
Royal Navy captain Robert Wauchope invented the time ball in the early 19th century.
It was a large ball in the harbor that would indicate the exact time. It was big enough that sailors could see it through their telescopes and set their chronometers to the exact time.
And thus began the tradition of the time ball…