Some things have changed and some have stayed the same. That statement rings true for how people ring in the New Year time and time again. No matter the decade, the political climate, or the location, people everywhere are happy to put the past year behind them and celebrate starting fresh. Looking back on new year’s celebrations throughout history, some cause heartache while others inspire. From the historic fall of the Berlin Wall to the legendary nightlife at Studio 54, here’s what New Year’s Eve celebrations looked like around the world.
1939: Children Evacuated From London During WWII
It was a scary time in England on New Year’s Eve 1939. The people of London were fearful of aerial bombing operations on the city during World War II and chose to evacuate as many people, especially children, out of London for their own safety.
More than 3.5 million people ended up being relocated in the latter part of 1939, including the kids photographed here, who were evacuated from their London homes. Regardless of the circumstances, their parents managed to throw everyone a New Year’s party as the calendar turned from 1939 to 1940. Even Jacko the donkey made an appearance.
1940: The Morning After at Grand Central Station
No place celebrates New Year’s Eve as big as New York City, and that’s been true for over a century. The ball first dropped in Times Square in 1907, three years after revelers first began gathering at the spot to celebrate.
The tradition carries on today, and the hangovers too! Here’s a photo taken in 1940 of exhausted, hungover men waiting for the trains to start at Grand Central Station on New Year’s Day.
1941: Navy Prank on Army
There’s more to the story than meets the eye in this photo taken on December 31, 1941. Here you see a New Year’s Eve party in New York City. Sitting in the chair is a soldier of the Army, who is about to be pranked by a Navy sailor.
Called “the hot foot” the sailor had already snuck a match between the welt and upper of the soldier’s shoe, without him noticing. He then takes a lit match to the match in the shoe, and well… you can probably guess the rest.
1941: Copacabana During War Time
On New Year’s Eve, 1941, the New York City Defense Recreation Center threw a party for the boys in the service. Members of the military were issued tickets for a New Year’s Party at Copacabana in New York City, which had recently opened. It was owned by Monte Proser and mob boss Frank Costello.
In this photo, you can also see two members of Britain’s Royal Air Force. At this time, America was officially engaged in WWII, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The boys were more than ready to have an excuse to let loose.
1945: Diamond Horse-Shoe in New York City
Between 1938 and 1951, the Diamond Horse-Shoe theater and club was a hot spot in Times Square, New York City. In 1945, the same year this photo was taken, a film was made that was inspired by the club, starring actress and pin-up girl Betty Grable.
Everything about the venue was made to be grand and an escape from reality. Here, four showgirls (Vicky Denas, Dourine Andrews, Priscilla Callon, and Lorraine Miller) are getting ready backstage as the clock nears midnight, when they’re set to perform for the crowd.
1949: Hope Hampton at El Morocco Nightclub
Pictured on the right, Hope Hampton was an actress and producer during the era of silent motion pictures. She was discovered as a talent by her husband, Jules Burlatour and first appeared in motion pictures in A Modern Salome in 1920.
This photo was taken at New York City’s El Morocco nightclub on 154 East 54th Street. It was New Year’s Eve 1949, and Hampton’s husband had recently passed away in 1946. Hampton went out to ring in the new year with friends.
1952: American Soldiers In Korea
Not everyone gets to go home for the holidays, including the men and women who stay dedicated to serving our country while the rest of us party the night away. This photo taken at the end of 1951 shows soldiers from the 19th Infantry Regiment along the Kumsong front.
It was the middle of the Korean War, just after the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge and before the Battle of Kumsong had taken place. The soldiers are wishing everyone back home a Happy New Year headed into 1952.
1954: Police Distribute Free Coffee for Tired Drivers
Rather than DUI checkpoints, in 1954 police coordinated free java stops throughout twenty communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Their plan was to encourage tired drivers to pull over and wake up with a free cup of coffee, therefore reducing traffic incidents during the early hours of New Year’s Day.
Here three New York State police chiefs are drinking coffee at Niagara Falls, setting up one of several hundred signs directing drivers on where to go for free java.
1971: Monkeys Eat Cake
We’re not entirely sure the context of this photo, taken in 1971. Here, monkeys and baboons are feasting on a large cake that reads, “Happy New Year To You All.” Whether it was intended for them or not, these monkeys are feasting on that cake!
The Chinese Zodiac sign of 1971 was the pig, not the monkey. But don’t tell that to these guys. They’re just happy to eat cake!
1972: Birmingham, England
As the calendar turned from 1972 to 1973, revelers jumped in the fountain at Centenary Square Birmingham in England. As you can imagine, it was not warm outside and the water fountain was probably just as cold as the air temperature. These revelers might have stayed warm with the assistance of some good liquor!
For one reason or another, it seems that Brits always end up in the squares’ fountains on New Year’s Eve. While no one has deemed it ‘tradition’ in England, revelers are drawn to the fountains like moths to a flame.
1978: Four Tons of Glitter Dropped at Studio 54
While the ball was dropping in Times Square, things were just getting started at Studio 54. This photo was taken in 1978, at the peak of disco and Studio 54’s nightclub scene. At this point, the club had been open (and reopened after briefly being shut down) for around eight months.
Event planner Robert Isabell dumped four tons of glitter at midnight, which ended up covering the entire club and its patrons four inches deep in glitter. Club owner Ian Schrager compared it to “standing on stardust.” As expected, glitter could still be found around the venue and tracked through partyer’s clothes and homes months later.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco…
1978: The Grateful Dead Play in San Francisco
The Grateful Dead went through a lot in the 1970’s but the band never slowed down. While band members changed, Pigpen passed away, and other band members dealt with drug charges, Grateful Dead rocked on.
In 1978 they performed on New Year’s Eve at Winterland in San Francisco. A long list of music legends played at the iconic venue, including The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, The Band, and Led Zeppelin. But this would be the final performance for the venue. Along with New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Blues Brothers, The Grateful Dead rocked the stage and Winterland closed the following day, on January 1, 1979.
1978: NYE At Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood
Located on the famous Sunset Strip, Whisky a Go Go nightclub in West Hollywood, California is iconic and has launched the careers of some of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, from The Doors to Guns N’ Roses.
This photo shows revelers on New Year’s Eve outside of the club in 1978. That was the same year that the band Status Quo referenced the venue in their song “Long Legged Linda,” singing, “Well if you’re ever in Los Angeles and you’ve got time to spare- Take a stroll up Sunset Boulevard, you’ll find the Whisky there.”
1980: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Played for Four Hours
In 1980 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band came together on the River tour, and performed on New Years Eve at the Nassau Coliseum in New York. The music went on for an incredible four hours, as the bands played 38 songs! It was the longest show Springsteen would ever play in his music career.
A live recording of the performance became legendary once it was released in 2015, and included songs “Fade Away,” “The Price You Pay,” and “Wreck on the Highway.”
1985: Julio Iglesias at Essex House in NYC
Having already achieved success in Europe, artist Julio Iglesias moved to Miami, Florida in 1979 and began recording music in languages other than Spanish. In 1984 he released the album 1100 Bel Air Place, which launched his career in the U.S. and solidified his his status as an international icon.
Also in 1984, Iglesias recorded duets with Diana Ross and Willie Nelson, and won a Grammy Award. Here he’s pictured on New Year’s Eve in 1985, performing and celebrating the new year at the Essex House in New York City.
1988: Tina Turner Breaks World Record in Brazil
In 1988, Tina Turner was one of the most well-known singers and actresses on the planet. Her album sales were through the roof and Turner traveled all around the globe for live performances and acting in films.
This photo taken right after midnight on New Year’s Day in 1988 shows Turner treading through the shallows of the sea in Rio de Janeiro. That month in Brazil she broke the world record for playing in front of the largest paying audience: 184,000 people.
1988: MTV’s New Year’s Eve Party
MTV first launched in 1981 and provided a place for music lovers to call home. Teens across the country turned on the tube to see their favorite musicians and personalities and discover the latest in music.
MTV’s New Year’s Eve Party featured live performances by top musical artists and appearances by major celebrities. In 1988, C.C. DeVille performed, pictured here being interviewed by “Downtown” Julie Brown, a British MTV host.
1989: Celebrating on the Berlin Wall With Hasselhoff
Just two months after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall began, revelers climbed it to ring in the New Year in 1989. The formal reunification of divided Germany had not yet taken place, but hopeful spirits were alive and well in Berlin.
David Hasselhoff decided to hold a concert on the remains of the wall that New Year’s with 100,000 people turning out to celebrate. His hit song “Looking for Freedom” was the unofficial anthem of tearing down the wall and topped number one on the charts in Germany for months leading up to its demise.
1991: Kids Ready To Parade In Canada
When it comes to New Year’s Eve, the kids are just as excited as the adults, if not more so! Many kids never forget the first year they’re allowed to stay up until midnight to ring in the new year.
These children in Canada were elated to participate in a street parade on New Year’s Eve, 1991. Bundled up with painted faces, these youngsters are spreading the holiday cheer in their neighborhood.
1999: Worrying About The Y2K Bug
In 1999, on the brink of the turn of the century, people were freaking out about problems that could happen with the banks and computers when everything switched from ’99’ to ’00.’ More than 1,000 staff were on-hand at Niagara Mohawk Power Company in Buffalo, New York, ready to tackle any problem that might occur.
John Hamre, who was the United States Deputy Secretary of Defense was quoted saying, “The Y2K problem is the electronic equivalent of the El Nino and there will be nasty surprises around the globe.” Fear of the ‘Y2K Bug’ was massive, but any problems that occurred ended up being minor.