Governor Steve Sisolak will hold a signing ceremony on Tuesday officially designating neon as Nevada’s official state element. 

Governor Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 182 into law on Tuesday. The new law will go into effect July 1, 2019. 

“The noblest of gases deserves to be recognized by our great state,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, D-Washoe, who sponsored the bill. “From Las Vegas' famed 'Glitter Gulch,' to Reno's burgeoning tech corridor, to the lights of civilization along the loneliest road, Neon has played an important role in the development, growth, and the cultural identity of our state.”

Peters sponsored the legislation on behalf of the Carson City schoolchildren and their teacher, Will Durham, who is the executive director of the Nevada Neon Project and has been collecting and preserving neon signs for more than 20 years.

“Neon isn’t a fad or novelty in Nevada,” said Durham. “Neon signs have embodied our culture and heritage for almost a century. When other states enacted ordinances to remove neon signs they considered garish and old fashioned, Nevada doubled down and built neon towers hundreds of feet tall with miles and miles of glowing tubes.”


The story begins soon after World War II, when the kinetic energy of neon signs exploded across the U.S. landscape...but not for long, and Reno came late to the party. As Neon sign collector Will Durham told me, "Neon was big all over the United States until the late 50's and early 60's when newer technology came around, but Nevada didn't get that memo. It was like the news was lost on Nevada, and we started building giant signs and more elaborate signs."

They were flat-out beautiful signs. Bright, colorful, creative and every one unique…Individual works of art. Durham says “They helped us attract tourists, but it also really defined our image, and it was something that was welcoming and optimistic. And it was something that Reno really embraced."

For decades, Will has been scouring the state, adopting these old works of colorful art. He has about a hundred classic neon signs now, but has his favorites, like the huge blue buffalo head above a title. Will says, "The Buffalo Bar in Sparks was one of the most iconic signs in my views, and it was a figurative sign."

A couple of the signs made their way to The Knowledge Center inside the UNR campus library, where on one lit-up sign you can see the streamlined horns and the bright red and white that would lure weary travelers to the old Longhorn Motel in Reno. Now Will is on a mission to make neon the official 'element.' As he told me, “We figured this is a way to include neon as one of our state symbols."

He passed on the love for neon to his 5th and 6th grade students at Carson Montessori School. It turned into a civics lesson: drafting a bill that will be submitted to the state legislature. As Bella Chavez, one of his students told me, "We're just learning how the legislative process is, and it's very cool." Classmate Sadie Brown really does want neon to be the state element, "Just because it’s very iconic to Nevada. If you ever see a movie about Nevada, there are always neon signs." Durham adds, "We're also going to get some other prominent Nevadans to get their support too."

With that, maybe more of our iconic signs can be saved…and back to spreading some colorful light in Reno again.