Adolph Ochs owned a newspaper in the early 1900s. Fact is, Adolph owned two papers, one in a small city and one in a large one. The small city paper was successful and established while the big city paper Ochs had been able to purchase on the cheap because it wasn’t successful at all.
The big city paper had two things going against it. One, the competition in the big city was fierce while the small city paper Ochs owned had no real competition. It’s good to be the only game in town, but that absolutely wasn’t the case in the big city. The other reason the big city paper was failing is that the journalism of the day revolved around sensationalism–historians call it Yellow Journalism.
Typical of the period is the story of William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the New York Journal, who hired a writer to go to Spanish-controlled Cuba to cover what Heart was sure to be the impending outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The correspondent wired Hearst and said something like it was pretty in Havana but there was no war. Hearst is supposed to have wired a reply and told him, “You provide the pictures; I’ll provide the war,” meaning that he could gin up pro-war sentiment with sensationalism.
Ochs decided to not practice this Yellow Journalism. He purposely printed stories that were “straight news” with little slant and with as much objectivity as is humanly possible. This sharp contrast to the sensational, lurid reporting found on the pages of the Hearst and Pulitzer (Pulitzer published the World newspaper) rags came to be appreciated by the public, and, soon, his little shabby newspaper grew in circulation and prestige. People knew they could trust Ochs’s paper, and, within a few years, it became the leading newspaper in the nation–the New York Times. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about, really.
You see, in 1904, as Ochs was gaining ground on his tabloid rivals in popularity, he found that his offices needed to expand; he needed a place that was more centralized to not only the center of what news was happening in the city but also central to distribution points in the five boroughs and beyond. So, in that year, Ochs moved the Times offices to Longacre Square in midtown Manhattan. For his own convenience, really, Ochs persuaded New York City Mayor George McClelland to build a subway stop near the new office building.
To celebrate his new building–and his burgeoning success with the paper–Ochs paid for and promoted a celebration in the square to share his happiness with his fellow New Yorkers. The city, aware of how important the paper was becoming, actually re-named the area after the paper. That’s why it’s now called Times Square.
Oh, and that celebration? Ochs made sure to shoot off fireworks from the top of the paper’s office building on New Year’s Eve, and, in 1907, he commissioned an expensive ball to drop from a large flag pole as the countdown to the New Year began. It has done so every year since, with the exception of two years during World War 2.
It’s a tradition we continue to this day.