Going To Vegas

Las Vegas History

Sun, Feb 24, 2013

If you only know Vegas history from the movies you may think Bugsy’s car broke down in the middle of the desert one day and he decided to build a bunch of casinos from the sand. Actually, Las Vegas is a valley with natural springs, and though it isn’t as lush as Southern CA, and it is pretty hot in the summer, people and wildlife have made this their home throughout history.

Early History: 10,000 to 2,000 Years Ago

Around 10,000 years ago nomadic Paleo-Indians often stopped in the Vegas Valley and stayed for a time before moving on. Many petroglyphs have survived giving us a clue as to how they lived. Around 2,000 years ago Anasazi came to southern Nevada along the Muddy and Virgin Rivers. The “Lost City” where they mainly dwelled is just northwest of current day Las Vegas.

“The Meadows”: 1829

It is believed Rafael Rivera was the first of European descent to view the Vegas Valley. This was as recently as 1829. He named it Las Vegas, Spanish for “The Meadows.” Abundant water and natural desert fauna and flora made Las Vegas a great stop for those traveling to California, reducing the time the trip took by several days.

The First Vegas Marketing Campaign: 1844

It wasn’t “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” In 1844 John C. Fremont arrived in Las Vegas and kept a journal of some of the natural springs. His writings inspired many to settle here.

Sin City, Stopping Point in a Religious Pilgrimage?: 1855

Maybe not a pilgrimage, but the Mormon Church chose Las Vegas as the perfect place to build a fort as a halfway point between Salt Lake City and Las Angeles. The remains of the fort can still be seen on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Washington Ave.

Woohoo! Nevada is a State: 1864

Nevada was admitted into the Union as the 36th State in 1864. Sure Las Vegas isn’t all of Nevada... but have you visited Nevada outside of Las Vegas? (Sorry Reno).

Vegas Was a Mining City before it was a Gambling City: Late 1800’s – Early 1900’s

Many precious metals were discovered here in the late 1800’s which brought a number of people to the area. As part of the State Land Act of 1885, prospectors and those who wanted to settle could buy chunks of land for $1.25 per acre. Along with prospectors came farmers, and for the next 20 years agriculture dominated the economy in southern Nevada. In early 1900’s the main railway from Salt Lake City to Southern California was completed. Vegas was the perfect stopping point between because of the abundance of water.

Woohoo! Las Vegas is a City: 1905

On May 15th 1905 Las Vegas became a city. On July 1 1909 Nevada Legislature created Clark County named after William Clark who was key in bringing the new railway through southern Nevada. By 1911 the Vegas population was a whopping 800 people and by 1930 had only grown to 5,165 people.

The Hoover Dam and Gambling: 1931

One of the largest man-made structures and perhaps the most ambitious engineering feat of the time and ever previous to that point, the Hoover Dam began construction in 1931 and brought a huge influx of workers. The dam would allow much more of the Vegas valley to be populated and would supply electricity to much of Nevada, Arizona, and California. Also in 1931 gambling was officially legalized in Nevada, though it had not been enforced prior to that point.

WWII and the 1940’s

With the war looming, the defense industry came to southern Nevada, and even today the Nevada test site is a large part of the local economy. The Vegas Valley is the perfect location for large industrial complexes, specifically defense, because of inexpensive electricity and an abundance of natural minerals.
The “Roaring 40’s” as they were called were especially good for southern Nevada. By 1945 people were in the mood to live, and with legalized gambling, inexpensive electricity, and cheap land, many resort hotels began popping up all over the Vegas Valley. It was not long before tourism became the number one industry in the area.

Vegas is the Bomb... 1951

The first atomic bomb was detonated at the Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas in 1951. Many came to see the event, unknown in large part at the time were the dangers of fallout from a nuclear explosion even from a distance. In 1963 the Test Ban Treaty was signed stating all atomic tests must take place underground.

Racial Integration: 1955

It was not until 1955 that Moulin Rouge opened, it was Las Vegas’ first racially integrated hotel.

Las Vegas through the 60’s

Peace, love, and money. That might have been the motto of the time. Howard Hughes led the corporate charge to buy casinos from the traditionally mob connected owners. Soon gambling was legitimized, at least in Nevada. Gambling was renamed “gaming,” profits increased, tourism increased, and Las Vegas was well on its way to becoming the “Adult Playground” it is today.

Las Vegas: 1980’s – Present

Car bombs and indebted gamblers with missing digits are a thing of the past and most of the properties are publicly traded. Tourism has shifted from the old-school Downtown area, with a history deep in mob folklore and celebrity tails of the Rat Pack, Elvis, and others, to the current Strip. For a brief time casinos flirt with the idea of making Vegas a “family” destination, but it is quickly realized there is no shaking Vegas as the adult playground, and why would they want to anyway? Starting in 1980 Las Vegas has a population of only 164,674 people. With 7% increase per year growth fueled by over 9% job growth in the 80’s, Las Vegas in only 10 years nearly triples in population while the greater Vegas area reaches over a million.
During the 90’s growth continues. The Fremont Street Experience opens in an attempt to revive the Downtown area. Las Vegas is now the largest Metropolitan area founded in the 20th century.
In 2007 the Downtown area undergoes an almost complete renovation, making it truly the “Second Strip.” Today Las Vegas is the world’s number one tourist destination.