This commentary is from a planned radio commentary I wrote many years ago, my daughter visiting for the holidays and hearing our watch clock spawned its resurrection from the archives.                 

Since 1907, every year, at 0000 Hrs Nautical time (GMT-5 hrs) people from all around the world watch the U.S. Times Square New York time ball drop announcing a "New Year", this year, over a billion people are believed to have watched the festivities on television or on-line.

So, what does that ball have to do with my Naval Clock ?

In 2020 with Atomic clocks, satellite positioning, GPS, and digital signals we have replaced these "time balls" (almost), the time balls at the Greenwich Observatory and the US Naval Observatory continue to drop every day to give both locals and ships on the rivers a means of setting their watches and clocks. 

The first time ball was erected at the Royal Navy Yard in Portsmouth, England in 1829, followed by a time ball at the Greenwich Observatory in 1833, then at the US Naval Observatory in Washington DC in 1845. Soon, time balls were installed in ports around the world. 

They were large balls hoisted to the top of a pole that was easily visible to ships in the port and waterways, the ball was lowered at a precise time, usually high noon, ships navigators seeing the ball beginning to drop could set their ships' clocks and chronometers to the exact and correct time.

In the mid-1920's the advancement of radio generated time signals made time balls obsolete, If you have ever been on a time and distance rally of any sort, you know the concept, if not... here is an explanation via a map stolen online:  
In an earlier posting I discussed Naval, Meridian, Zulu, Greenwich, Military, UTC, Prime, daylight savings, and U.S.time zones (like Eastern, Mountain, Pacific, etc).

Each one of those (longitude) lines on the globe are time zones (that change the time one hour each), it is all keyed off that zero degree line in Greenwich England. the earth revolves left-to-right  (see map 2)

Another stolen map..... (map 2) Left click to enlarge

When out of sight of land, a ships navigator can determine his time zone (longitude) position east or west of the line of Greenwich, by observing high noon (on a sextant) with the time on his clock, set to the exact noon time in Greenwich, England.

Confused ? if you traveled due east or west  and are at sea, it is exactly high noon... I look at my clock, and it says 5 PM (1700 hrs) ... I am 5 hours away from Greenwich time, I must be in either India or Florida.

Measuring my position north or south on the globe is another matter entirely, done by measuring the altitude of the sun using only a sextant and a nautical almanac. 

So, whats a time ball doing at Times Square, anyway ?