The Wendover Will mechanical cowboy stands as an iconic landmark of Wendover, Nevada. Wendover Will’s construction was a feat of advanced mechanical engineering for the time, and represents the lengths Americans were willing to go to in order to drive tourism, business, and growth to small western towns in the early-to-mid-20th century.
The city of Wendover, Nevada sits on the border of Utah and Nevada. It houses the Wendover airfield, home to many World War II relics. Wendover also lies next to the Bonneville Salt Flats, a popular camping site for many Utahns and Nevadans. However, none of these sites are quite as eye-catching as the 63-feet-tall neon cowboy that rises over the city. “Wendover Will,” dubbed the World’s Largest Mechanical Cowboy, was named after Mr. William “Bill” Smith, the founder of the city. In 1926 he established a service station in the area to help travelers on what is now the I-80. His meager establishment grew into a thriving gambling city when the city of Wendover was founded in July 1991.
One of the early landmarks in Wendover was a large electric pole similar to those in Las Vegas. A light flashed on top of the pole to alert travelers to the presence of Smith’s service station. The electric pole remained a signature feature of the town as it grew from a service station meant to serve passersby to a town full of hotels, casinos, and cafes. Due to Wendover’s rapid expansion, the residents of the town felt they needed a fun attraction besides the casinos to encourage tourism. In 1951, construction began on the electric light pole as the Young Electric Sign Company converted it into Wendover Will. The company completed construction of Wendover Will in the spring of 1952, which was no small feat and included Will’s height at 63-feet-tall, a large cowboy hat, a gun in his holster, and a cigarette in his mouth. One enormous hand points to the town while the other beckons to the approaching freeway travelers. Both arms are powered by a ¾ motor and the monument has 1,184 feet of neon lights and tubing that enable it to be seen from miles away. For a monument created in 1952, this was ahead of its time in mechanical engineering.
Wendover Will made history in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the “Largest Mechanical Cowboy in the Entire World, ” beating his rival, Vegas Vic, a similar neon cowboy on the Las Vegas strip. Wendover Will continues to appeal to the people on the Nevada-Utah border, welcoming all who travel through along I-80.