The Times Square New Year’s celebration has been happening since 1904. The first celebration was in honor of the new headquarters of The New York Times. The newspaper’s owner Alfred Ochs had lobbied the city to rename Longacre Square in honor of the paper’s new building, the second tallest in the city at the time.
“The building was the focus of an unprecedented New Year's Eve celebration,” the Times Square website says. “Ochs spared no expense to ensure a party for the ages. An all-day street festival culminated in a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower, and at midnight the joyful sound of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from the over 200,000 attendees could be heard, it was said, from as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, thirty miles north along the Hudson River.”
After a few years the city didn’t allow fireworks, so Ochs arranged to have a large, illuminated iron and wood ball lowered from the Times building’s flagpole exactly at midnight, when it became 1908.
It’s been a tradition ever since, except when it was suspended in 1942 and 43 due to wartime “dim outs.”