History of Las Vegas

The earliest known inhabitants of the region were the Southern Paiute Indians. The name, Paiute, means “true Ute” or “water Ute” which indicates an intimate connection with that Indian tribe.

Like their counterparts, these native Americans spoke dialects based on the language of the Aztecs, and it is estimated that they entered the Las Vegas area about 1100-1200 AD.

Spanish traders en route to Los Angeles along the Spanish Trail in the early 1700s were in search of a route that led through the then as yet unexplored Las Vegas valley. The very first person of European ancestry to look upon the valley was Rafael Rivera, a young scout. The region was named Las Vegas, meaning “the meadows” in Spanish.

The Paiutes lived among their kindred, undisturbed by the outside world for centuries until the large scale migration to California by Anglo-European explorers and settlers in the 1840s. This time period marked the beginning of the end of the traditional way of life for these native-Americans.

In 1855, Brigham Young sent 30 Mormon missionaries to build a fort in the valley, which represented the very first non-Indian settlement in Las Vegas. Their mission was to teach farming to the Indians, who rejected their teachings and occasionally raided the fort until it was permanently abandoned in 1857. The fort still stands at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

Also known as “Sin City,” because of its open nature and 24-hour lifestyle, Las Vegas became official on May 15, 1905. At that time, the city encompassed some 19 square miles and claimed about 800 inhabitants, which was less than 1% of the state’s entire population. Today Las Vegas is synonymous with glitz and glamour and the city proudly stands as one of the most prominent and internationally known resorts for gambling, shopping and entertainment. The city includes mostly the surrounding, unincorporated sections of Clark County, especially the resort areas on and near the Las Vegas Strip, which runs for 4.5 miles. Lavish casinos adorn this alluring ribbon of road, enticing all who pass under its dazzling spell with its illicit whispers of flowing liquor (throughout the state of Nevada) and adult entertainment.

Las Vegas Neighbors

Some neighboring towns include North Las Vegas, Spring Valley, Summerlin South, Sunrise Manor and Winchester, Nevada, all of which form a part of the city’s economy as triggered by tourism and the gaming industry. The city enjoys one of the best climates in all of the United States, and approximately 41 million people visit each year. According to a recent study developed by the Nevada Center for Business and Economic Research, visitor spending totals $38.4 billion annually and 23% of all Las Vegas jobs are gambling related.

The Rise of Las Vegas Casinos

Tourism evolved slowly, beginning with the legalization of gambling in March of 1931. One month later, the city issued 6 gambling licenses and since then, the industry has adapted to the dynamic needs of a gambling public. Las Vegas and legalized gambling flourished even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, insulating the town and its people from the economic hardships that beset the rest of the nation.

By 1940, the population had grown to 8,422. Its isolated location, along with plentiful water and inexpensive energy, made Las Vegas ideal for military and defense related industries. The downtown area had had several luxury hotels and a dozen small but successful gambling clubs. During World War II, Tommy Hull built the El Rancho Vegas Hotel-Casino on what is now vacant land opposite the current Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. At the time, it was the only resort on the strip and in 1941 singers, strippers, comedians, dancers and other performers were booked to entertain hotel guests.

The success of this casino triggered a building boom, which included the construction of several hotel casinos, by far the most celebrated of which was the Flamingo Hotel, which opened on New Years Eve, 1946. The brains behind this lush operation, whose entrance was marked with a giant pink sign and replicas of pink flamingoes on the lawn, was notorious mobster, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a violent scion of the Meyer Lansky crime syndicate. The casino was named after the long legs of his showgirl girlfriend, Virginia Hill, and it was the largest and most luxurious hotel of its time, boasting 77 rooms. Its eventual success paved the way for the modern day behemoths of 4,000 plus rooms that today line the Las Vegas Strip. An unknown gunman killed Seigel some six months after the club’s opening as he sat in the living room of his lover’s Beverly Hills home.

As is the way of all things that comprise the ebb and flow of life, The Las Vegas Strip changed, and as time passed, the golden era of casinos, even buffered by the deep pockets of Howard Hughes, slipped into a period of transition with a whirl of new owners, demolition, extensive renovations and name changes. Beginning in the mid 1980s, a period of unprecedented growth began. Between 1985-1995, the city’s population almost doubled, increasing nearly 7% per year, raising numbers from 186,380 to 368,360. During the 1990s, and particularly in the last two years of the last century, 18 new venues were built, many with themes revolving around the world’s major cities. The race to build the most outrageous casino/resort in Las Vegas began at this time and is still going strong in 2015.

Sign up for our newsletter!