In 1903, there was no New Year’s celebration in Times Square. For one thing, it was called Longacre Square at the time, and New Year celebrations were pretty much like those anywhere else. The big New York celebration started on December 31, 1904 to usher in 1905 -and the newly-named Times Square. See, it was named after the New York Times newspaper, when publisher Adolph Ochs built the headquarters there.
August Belmont, the president of the new subway and a New York Times shareholder, was probably the one who suggested the renaming of Longacre Square. He had to have been aware that the Times’ archrival, the New York Herald, had successfully named the intersection of 34th Street, Sixth Avenue, and Broadway – now Herald Square – after itself. “Belmont wanted to get the most bang for the bucks he was putting into the railroad,” said David W. Dunlap, a longtime reporter at the Times’ Metro section.
Mayor George McClellan made the name change official on August 8, 1904. To commemorate the newspaper’s new address, Ochs planned a spectacular street party for December 31, 1904. At the time, New York’s main New Year’s Eve celebration was a relatively somber affair at Trinity Church downtown, where revelers sang hymns and bells clanged at midnight. The Times’ party, in contrast, would usher in 1905 with fireworks, noisemakers and Fanciulli’s Concert Band at the foot of the Times Tower.
The party was so much fun that they did it every year since. While the crowds are still coming, the celebration has changed. Read the history of New Year’s Eve in Times Square, including the origin of the ball drop, at Atlas Obscura.