The 25-foot-high, internally lit Las Vegas sign was designed by the late commercial artist Betty Willis (pictured below in 1998).

Las Vegas sign Betty Willis, 1998
Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau (LVNB)

Betty started designing neon signs in the 1950s for Thomas Young’s YESCO and other sign makers. In 1952 she moved to Western Neon, a small local outfit, where, in 1959, salesman Ted Rogich, the father of political consultant Sig Rogich, got the idea to propose a welcome sign for the highway from Los Angeles.

Ted and Betty agreed that the sign had to be something flashy that really proclaimed “Vegas.” The eventual design is covered in blinking silver dollars and mismatched fonts, lined with yellow lightbulbs that chased each other around, and topped with an eight-pointed star that called out to every car passing north on Highway 91, “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.”

Despite the highway technically belonging to the state of Nevada, Ted sold the sign to Clark County, where commissioner Harley E. Harmon, who “had a lot of juice in those days,” said, “To hell with the state. Put it up.”

Betty explained that the rounded diamond shape of the sign was inspired by the Goodyear logo of the time, and the idea for the starburst came from the one in Disneyland’s emblem, which to her meant a happy destination.

Goodyear logo rounded diamond

The seven silver dollars behind each letter of “welcome” were a symbol of good luck for visitors entering the world’s gambling capital. Her design was never trademarked as Betty felt that the town needed free publicity, and it has been adapted in tourism flyers, Nevada license plates, a marketing campaign by Southwest Airlines, and is widely available as clip art.

When Betty was profiled by the New York Times in 2005 she said, “I never felt like a great artist in what I was doing but I had good ideas. And I was willing to take the time to learn all of the engineering and the technical elements involved with neon signs.” The executive director of the Neon Museum, Danielle Kelly, said, “Betty Willis was a woman designer dominating an almost exclusively masculine field during the 1950s and 1960s — a kind of Peggy Olson [the ad copywriter in the TV show Mad Men] for her profession.”

While the sign is currently owned by Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) who lease it to Clark County, perhaps the most surprising fact about it is that, in an ever-changing, ever-updating Vegas, it still stands six decades on.

Las Vegas sign back
Photo by Luis Villa del Campo

To Betty Willis, Las Vegas was forever “Fabulous”,
A neon come-hither, still able to flirt,
Two legends who designed Las Vegas’s iconic neon landscape died on the same day,
Betty Willis, designer of “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, dies,
Leaving, and entering, and leaving, and entering Las Vegas,
Welcome to Las Vegas,
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign,


I remember back in the 70s when this was on the old LA highway. Growing up here, I always used to drive by this sign, and at the time nobody really paid any attention to it. It was just like any other sign you would see while driving into any other state. “Welcome to California”, Welcome to Colorado”. It’s always amazing to me, every day, that I drive by this sign, how iconic something that nobody cared about before, has become so important! What most people don’t know, is that we actually have two of these signs! Can anyone tell me where the other is located?

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