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Shine On Me: The Fascinating History of Disco Balls

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The first documented appearance of the disco ball goes as far back as 1897, where an issue of the Electrical Worker, the publication of an electrician’s union in Charlestown, Massachusetts discusses the group’s annual party and its most notable decorations. The group’s initials (N.B.E.W.) were illuminated with “incandescent lamps of various colors on wire mesh over the ballroom” and a carbon arc lamp flashed on a “mirrored ball.”

The first patent for a product that was to be an early version of the modern disco ball was issued in 1917 by Louis Woeste. It was called the “Myriad Reflector”. One bulletin read: “The newest novelty is one that will change a hall into a brilliant fairyland of flashing, changing, living colors – a place of a million-colored sparks, darting and dancing, chasing one another into every nook and corner – filling the hall with dancing fireflies of a thousand hues.”

Patent for Myriad Reflector

The balls were also referred to as mirror balls, or glitter balls and people started to like them because of the special “dizzy” effect which was noted as a “novel lighting effect”. The early globes were 27 inches in diameter and covered in over 1200 tiny mirrors, adding a glittering sheen of color to entertainment venues. The dance halls of the era had no strobe lights, fog machines, or glow sticks; the atmosphere was more conservative. The myriad reflector suited the spaces perfectly, and a number of them popped up at dances as well as jazz clubs and skating rinks—and even circuses, where animals might balance themselves on reinforced reflectors.

After the 1920’s, the disco balls started to become rarer. Their return on the dancefloor occurred in the late 1960’s while their prime was, of course, during the arrival of disco in the 1970s. A Kentucky company, known at the moment as Omega National Products, claimed production of 90 percent of all the disco balls used in the United States during the disco era. Twenty-five plant workers would make 25 balls each per day by hand, carefully affixing the reflective sheets to metal globes. A 48-inch model might sell for $4000, or roughly $20,000 today. But clubs happily paid, knowing the “disco ball” was the perfect complement to their décor.

Roller Disco

In a culture that shifts so rapidly, how could something like a disco ball remain so untouched? For almost everyone, the answer seems to come down to nostalgia. Disco balls remind everyone in clubland of a simpler time when the music was pure and the feelings were good. We feel their magic when a disco ball’s glowing tiles fill our favorite rooms with just enough light to dance to. It’s kind of like visiting a beautiful landmark in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood—no matter what sprouts up around it (from techno to EDM), you know that disco ball will always be there for you. Shine on disco ball, shine on.

400 Disco Balls Installation: Sunset at Edition Club, West Hollywood

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