Ball Drops Did Not Start in Times Square
Times Square beware: you’re not the oldest ball drop around. In fact, the ball drop originated in Portsmouth England in 1829. That is where time synchronization really started to take shape, in the form of a ball.
In 1833, another time ball was installed in Greenwich and has dropped at 1pm everyday since then.
The time ball was invented by Robert Wauchope, a Royal Navy officer, as a way for ships to set their chronometer before heading out to sea. The daily ball drop occurred at 1pm because at noon, observers were busy taking exact readings of solar time. Accurate time was important for ships to calculate their longitude at sea.
All over the world, time balls were installed in shipping ports for years to follow. In 1924, radio time signals rendered time balls obsolete and they slowly began to disappear. The ball drop tradition still continues today in a handful of places. In the United States, it happens daily at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington DC and, of course, the annual Times Square ball drop.