You know that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas (unless the paparazzi is watching). And you know that you’ve made it to Vegas when you see the iconic sign. But do you know these surprising facts about the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign?
1) The sign might say, “Las Vegas,” but it isn’t actually inside the city limits.
It’s located at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South, which is in the neighboring town of Paradise. In fact, much of the old Vegas strip is technically located in Paradise. So all that time you thought you were in Vegas… you weren’t.
2) The sign is smaller than most Vegas signs.
It stands only 25 feet tall. Compared to the famous Vegas Vic sign, which stands 40 feet tall, it’s a dwarf.
3) The sign was placed in 1959.
Thanks to Hollywood, you probably think of the sign when you think of the gangsters that founded Vegas. But the sign wasn’t actually put into place until 13 years after Bugsy Siegel opened The Flamingo. And while the gangsters of early Vegas certainly were adept at marketing, the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign wasn’t their idea.
4) The sign was commissioned by a salesman.
Ted Rogich, a World War II vet, moved to Nevada and started a small neon sign company called Western Neon Co. He admired the neon signs of the city, but he noticed that, while there were tons of signs advertising the local casinos, hotels and restaurants, there wasn’t a sign advertising the city itself.
5) The sign is designed in the Googie architecture style.
Think you’ve never heard of “Googie?” Well, you’ve certainly seen it. This style of design was popular during the 40s and 50s. Remember The Jetsons? Their combination of futurism, the atomic age and space travel was a great example of Googie. When the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign was created, Googie was a typical design style used on motels, restaurants and diners.
6) The designer of the sign was female.
This was a big deal in 1959. Betty Willis, who had attended art school in Los Angeles, was working in Vegas as a commercial artist before she began designing neon signs. In an interview, Betty once said, “Most people are surprised when they find out a woman designed the sign. It was a man’s business back then. It wasn’t a woman’s field because when you work with neon signs, you have to not only design them, but you have to learn the nuts and bolts of how neon, light and electricity work. You have to learn about pressure points and weight and wattage of lamps. You work with engineers as well as artists. Most women back then weren’t interested in such technical stuff.”
7) The sign was a bargain.
At only $4,000, the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign was a bargain. In comparison, the roadside sign for the Stardust Hotel and Casino was replaced in 1967 for $500,000.
8) There’s $7 on the sign.
Across the top of the sign are 7 white circles, each with a letter from the word “Welcome.” Those circles are actually designed to portray silver dollars, since Nevada is the “Silver State.”
9) The sign was never copyrighted.
Betty gave the design of the sign to the city of Las Vegas as a gift. As such, she never copyrighted her design. So now you can buy a Vegas keychain, Vegas magnet, Vegas bumper sticker, all with the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign and Betty doesn’t get a dime. Considering how many tourists go through the city every year and how many souvenirs they buy, Betty’s gift turned out to be worth a fortune.
10) People once risked their lives to have a photo with the sign.
Tourists stood in the middle of the road in order to get their photo with the legendary sign. The city eventually decided that the possibility of dead or injured tourists was bad for business, so in 2008, it installed a parking lot by the sign. Now it’s much easier to get a photo… you just have to wait your turn.
11) The sign is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Because… it’s historic. It was nominated and approved in 2009.
12) Brandon Flowers wrote a song about the sign.
The Killers lead singer wrote an album in 2010 called, “Flamingo” (referring to the iconic hotel that started Vegas). On the album is a track called, “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas,” which refers to the sign.
13) The original is one of three.
While driving around Vegas, you might feel like you keep seeing the sign. In different places. No, you haven’t had too much to drink (well, maybe you have… but that’s not why you keep seeing the sign). The city installed a replica on Las Vegas Boulevard in 2002, just inside the city limits. And in 2007 another replica was installed on the Boulder Highway.
14) You can buy a piece of the sign.
When the lights on the sign are replaced, they’re sold as commemorative souvenirs. The proceeds are donated to charity.
15) The sign is going green.
You might want to get your commemorative light bulb while you can. Earlier this year, the Consumer Electronics Association made a $50,000 donation to Green Chips. That organization will use its donation to make the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign solar.