Under the Influence

Times Square used to go by a very different name

What's in a name? Like Hershey, Pennsylvania or Port Sunlight in England, Times Square is named after a company. But it had a long history beforehand.
Confetti drops over the crowd as the clock strikes midnight during the New Year's celebration in Times Square as seen from the Marriott Marquis in New York, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

There are many towns, cities and landmarks that have been around so long, we tend to forget the origin of their names. Some of those places were either created or anchored or funded by major companies.

Take Times Square in New York.

Times Square is one of the most recognized landmarks in the world and is the #1 tourist attraction in the U.S., drawing 50 million people every year.

But many people don't realize Times Square was named after a company.

Back in the late 1880's, the triangular area wedged between West 47th and 45th Street was then called Long Acre Square. It was a horse exchange and consisted of a large open space surrounded by drab apartment houses. But soon it began to change.

First, electricity transformed the square. Bright theatre marquees and street lights lit up the area, making it safer and more inviting. Second, the construction of New York's first rapid transit system gave New Yorkers unprecedented mobility in the city.

The arrival of public transit got the attention of shrewd real estate investors who knew the increased foot traffic in the area would generate profits. Over five million passengers passed through the Long Acre station.

One of those shrewd businessmen was Adolph S. Ochs, owner of the New York Times newspaper. He wanted to build a skyscraper for his company and saw an opportunity to give it a highly-visible location.

The Times Tower opened its doors in Long Acre Square in January of 1905, which was the second-tallest building in the Big Apple at the time. The mayor of New York was so enthralled by the skyscraper, he drafted a resolution and renamed the area Times Square in honour of the New York Times. Soon, hotels, major restaurants, popular bars and theatres moved into Times Square.

Ochs wanted to celebrate his new building and staged a big bright ball - illuminated by 100 incandescent bulbs - to slowly drop down its flagpole on New Year's Eve to welcome in the year 1908. That celebration would become a huge event that is still watched around the world and attracts over a million party-goers to Times Square every year.

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