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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Morgan Byrn
How one Tennessean changed how we celebrate New Year’s Eve
When I was a kid, my favorite thing about New Year’s Eve was staying up till midnight. We would turn on the TV to watch the ball drop at 12:00 AM in Times Square. Others would gather in their cities to wait for fireworks or their own ball drop. Here in Nashville, the city lowers a music note at the stroke of midnight. No matter how you bring in the New Year, watching from your home or outside with others, it’s all because of a Tennessean.
Adolph Ochs’ family moved from Ohio to Knoxville, Tennessee at the end of the Civil War. His father was a merchant. Adolph got a job working at the local newspaper when he was a teenager. At the Knoxville Chronicle, he worked his way from paper boy to an apprentice printer. As an apprentice, he would have done a little bit of everything in the print shop. When Adolph was nineteen, he decided he could run a newspaper all by himself. So, he bought The Chattanooga Daily Times in 1877! Adolph was able to take a newspaper that was failing and turn it into a successful paper.
Chattanooga Daily Times, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
The Ochs Building, where the Chattanooga Times was published, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
After a few years, Adolph heard about a paper that was about to go bankrupt called The New York Times. He bought the paper in 1886. The New York Times was a bigger paper and had a lot of problems. He was able to turn the paper around using the skills he learned working at the Chattanooga Daily Times. He did things like adding a book review and a weekly magazine to sell more papers. His instincts paid off! Readers enjoyed the new aspects of the paper and more people started to buy the newspaper. Ochs became a very successful publisher.
In 1904, Adolph moved The New York Times to a new home in Longacre Square. Soon, the city added a subway stop and renamed the square Times Square. You may have heard of Times Square, because it is one of the most famous areas in the city today. But how did it get so famous? Ochs had an idea that would change everything! He wanted to celebrate the newspaper’s move, and he would do it on December 31. He thought New Year’s Eve could be a holiday for everyone. He believed this was the perfect night to throw a party for the whole city of New York. At midnight Ochs had a chemist create a huge firework display. When the clocked chimed midnight, the crowd in the square was treated to a massive firework show. Ochs wanted to keep this tradition up, but he ran into a bit of trouble.
From The New York Times, December 31, 1904,
You see, fireworks were banned in the city in 1907. Not one to give up, Ochs had another idea. He knew that in the harbor, they signal ships by moving flags up and down poles. What if they could lower something like that on top of the New York Times building? But just lowering a flag is not that exciting. Ochs turned to a young man named Jacob Starr for help. Starr built an electric ball. Electricity was a pretty new technology and would impress the people. The ball, like a harbor flag, would be lowered on a pole. This first New Year’s Eve ball weighed 700 pounds. It was five feet in diameter, and it was covered in 100 light bulbs. Pretty impressive! The crowd loved it! A new tradition had started.
Since 1907, the New Year’s Eve ball has kicked off the new year with a bright start. The only times the ball did not drop to signal the new year were in 1942 and 1943. During World War II, there were blackouts, and the city had to remain dark. There have been six different balls, each one bigger, better, and brighter than the last.
This year, New Year’s Eve will look different, but thanks to Adolph Ochs you can count on the ball dropping. When you tune in to watch the celebration, you will see the biggest ball of them all. The ball weighs in at 11,875 pounds, 12 feet in diameter, and covered in 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles. It will definitely light up the New Year sky. Happy 2021!
Post Card of Times Square, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Adolph Ochs on the cover of Time September 1, 1924,
Times Square - The square is located at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Ave in New York City. Here you can find shopping, shows, restaurants, anything a tourist would want! It is one of the most famous places in the country.
Merchant - The owner and operator of a retail business.
Apprentice - Someone who is learning a skill by working with someone who is already good at that job. Today that might be a plumber, electrician, or mechanic.
Publisher - Someone who publishes something like a book, newspaper, magazine, etc. or who runs a business that publishes these things.
Subway – An underground passenger train. These are popular in large cities.
Chemist - Someone who works in the science of chemistry. In this instance, this man worked with explosives to make fireworks.
Diameter - The line that runs through the middle of the circle or sphere.
Blackouts - A period of time where all electricity is off in a town or city. This can be done on purpose, like during a time of war, or by accident due to damage.
At which newspaper did Ochs first work?
How old was Ochs when he bought The Chattanooga Daily Times?
How much more does the current Times Square ball weight than Ochs’ original?
If you were Adolph Ochs, what else would you have added to the New Year’s Eve celebration?
Create your own New Year’s Eve Ball!
Write a story about what your family does to celebrate the New Year.
Watch the ball drop in Times Square in 2018:
Morgan Byrn is the Family Programs Coordinator.