NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — At the time of the first New Year’s celebration in Times Square, Theodore Roosevelt was president, the New York Yankees were still known as the New York Highlanders, and it had been less than a decade since Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the eastern Bronx had been annexed to New York City.

And as WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, at the turn of the 20th century, Times Square was not even yet called Times Square. It was known as Longacre Square, and was already ablaze with electric light, historians Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace wrote.

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WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reports

The new name came in 1904, when the New York Times decided to move uptown into a 25-story tower built to handle the heavy weight of its printing equipment.

“The tallest building for miles around; it’s like a lighthouse in the middle of Manhattan,” said Countdown Entertainment President Jeff Straus.

Strauss said the Times wanted a party for the ages, and on New Year’s Eve 1903, that party came to fruition. From base to dome, the giant structure was alight, the paper wrote.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in Times Square,” Straus said.

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The event led Times Square to replace Trinity Church as the city’s New Year’s destination.

“And the first couple of years, they did fireworks,” Straus said.

But as it turns out, ashes do not make for very good confetti. So in 1907, they came up with a new idea based on an old maritime tradition.

“Lowering a ball at noon in ports around the world, which they still do to this day,” Strauss said, “And they married it with the newest lighting technology at the time — the incandescent bulb.”

Those 125-watt light bulbs are now shimmering LEDs. The iron and wood originally used for the ball has been supplanted by Waterford crystal, and the old Times tower may not be anything approaching the tallest around anymore. But at a minute to midnight Eastern Time, the world’s eyes are no place else.

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