From Edison’s Light Bulb to the Ball in Times Square

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On New Year’s Eve 1879, after toiling in his laboratory for over a year, Thomas Alva Edison unveiled his electric light bulb to the public in his hometown of Menlo Park, New Jersey. The very bulb is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Twenty-eight years later, also on New Year’s Eve, a young metalworker by the name of Jacob Starr took one hundred 25-watt light bulbs (thanks to Edison) and fashioned them onto an iron and wood ball, five feet in diameter and weighing 700 pounds. He attached the ball to a flagpole atop One Times Square in Manhattan, and at the stroke of midnight, to the cheers of partiers in the street, his invention—the New Year’s Eve Ball—dropped. A tradition was born.

Think of how far we’ve come. This year’s New Year’s Eve Ball, which doubles the size of previous Balls, will be adorned with 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs and 2,668 Waterford Crystals and weigh 11,875 pounds. Apparently, the amount of energy consumed by the lights, which in combination with the crystals can cast more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns, isn’t all that exorbitant. They say it’s equivalent to the energy per hour it takes to use two ovens.

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