Welding a Crystal Ball: The Construction of the Iconic New Year’s Eve Ball

Every year, millions of people around the world gather around the television at midnight to watch the iconic New Year’s Eve Ball descend in Times Square. It’s a tradition that’s more than 100 years old.

What most people don’t know is that the 12-ft-diameter ball weighs 11,875 lbs, is decorated with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles, is lit by 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs and took more than 5,000 worker hours to complete. Oh, and of those 5,000 hours, 3,000 were put in by metalworkers, welders, fitters, finishers, machinists and assemblers. So, it’s not surprising that this year the ball earned the American Welding Society’s Extraordinary Welding Award.

The current New Year’s Eve Ball was created by Hudson Scenic Studio in Yonkers, N.Y., and is the third ball the company has created. Hudson constructed its first New Year’s Eve Ball in 2000, then a second in 2007 to celebrate the tradition’s centennial.

This most recent ball was built in 2008 and was designed to be a permanent fixture over One Times Square that visitors could see any time of year. It is also the largest of the New Year’s Eve balls Hudson has created.

The project was overseen by Hudson’s foreman and chief engineer Roger Bardwell, an AWS Certified Welding Inspector and Professional Engineer. Hudson manufactured the substantially scaled-up ball’s structure, rigging and lighting equipment attachment. Other companies assisted with some of the more specialized parts. The construction of the massive ball was a challenging endeavor.

More than 60 employees on the shop floor of Hudson’s 120,000-sq-ft facility participated in the task, which included:

  • Forming the shape of the ball with an aluminum structure made of 180 triangular faces arranged in 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons. The triangles are made of 4-in diameter tubes welded together via gas tungsten arc welding. The welding of the skeleton alone took over 32 welders and fitters.
  • Laying triangular frames made of 304 stainless steel tubes atop the skeleton, to hold the ball’s lighting fixtures. The LED light fixtures and electronics are contained within waterproof boxes, and each lighting fixture has four Waterford Crystals bolted on.
  • Having the various welds and the structure of the ball inspected for quality. For this job, an outside inspector, John Brooks of John H. Brooks & Associates in Middletown, N.J., was used to inspect the ball. Bardwell, who is also responsible for the quality assurance program of Hudson Scenic Studio, uses outside inspectors on difficult jobs, or when requested by a client.

The ball, which began construction on August 18, was completed on December 5, 2008. However, the challenges didn’t end just because the ball was completed. In order to get the ball onto the roof of One Times Square, all the LED fixtures and control equipment had to be removed, and the ball’s skeleton had to be disassembled into its 3 component weldments. The individual parts were then lifted to the rooftop using window washer hoists before the ball was finally reconstructed around its pole.

This year, on January 6, AWS President Dean Wilson awarded the impressive New Year’s Eve Ball with the AWS Extraordinary Welding Award. The prize was presented during the annual ceremony to relight and raise the ball back to the top of its pole.

The AWS Extraordinary Welding Award is voted on by the AWS Past Presidents Committee. The award celebrates technical design or outstanding development in welded fabrication, welding excellence in construction, fabrication and manufacturing. It is awarded to those welded structures whose purpose has importance in, or influence on, history.

If you’d like to learn more about the construction of the award winning New Year’s Eve Ball, check out the feature “5,4,3,2,1… Getting the New Year’s Eve Ball Done!” in the Welding Journal, free with your membership to the AWS. And if you’re interested in becoming certified as a welder or inspector we invite you to see the variety of courses, training and certification services we have available at http://awo.aws.org.