From Small Desert Town to Gambling Capital of the World: A Brief History of Las Vegas

    History of Las Vegas

    When we see all the glitz and glamour of it and acknowledge the fact that it annually attracts millions of tourists, it’s hard to imagine that only a century ago Las Vegas was a small desert town with barely a few thousand residents around.

    Today, Las Vegas is considered the gambling capital of the world. There are hundreds of hotel resorts and casinos where you can test your luck and maybe even become a millionaire overnight. Also, a lot of online operators like Vegas Casino, for example, use the name of this city to lure players in, as Las Vegas is a strong symbol that’s recognized worldwide.

    History of Las Vegas

    In this article, we are going to turn back the hands of time and give you an insight into how this city became what it is today. Read on!

    The Origins

    Prior to the 19th century, the Las Vegas Valley was populated by Native Americans for over 10,000 years. During the early 1800s, Mexican merchants were passing through the valley to establish a trade route to California. They named the region “Las Vegas”, meaning “The Meadows” in Spanish.

    During the mid-19th century, the valley was still a part of the Mexican territory. After the Mexican-American war finished in 1848, several territories were taken by the United States, including the part around the Las Vegas Valley.

    For the rest of the century, the area pretty much remained unpopulated except for a few ranches. In 1902, the ranches and the surrounding areas were purchased by the railroad in an effort to connect Nevada to Utah.

    The Birth and Early Years

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the area was used as a resupply stopover for wagon trains. As the railroad grew, Las Vegas was developing and officially became a city in 1905.

    Quite interestingly enough, gambling in Nevada was outlawed in 1910, although Las Vegas continued to have a stable economy. After World War I broke out, the redirection of resources resulted in Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad declaring bankruptcy. Even after the remains of the company were sold, the nationwide strike by railroad workers left Las Vegas struggling throughout the 1920s.

    Hoover Dam and the Second World War

    The construction of the Hoover Dam began in 1931, which brought an influx of new residents to Las Vegas, predominantly workers who were building the dam.

    Considering that these were mostly men, casinos and showgirl theaters were the prime source of entertainment and many mafia organizations took the opportunity to open casino rooms and launder money. The dam was completed in 1935, and Las Vegas was able to power its bright lights that it became famous for.

    Despite World War II, Las Vegas continued to grow and a lot of new hotels, casinos, and nightclubs began to appear, including the famous Flamingo that opened in 1946.

    Postwar Years and the Modern Las Vegas

    It was after the war when Las Vegas really began to grow. By the mid-1950s, several million people were visiting it and spending close to $200 million each year.

    During the time, there were a lot of atomic tests performed in Nevada, which the city used as another tourist attraction and even offered organized viewings of mushroom clouds.

    Throughout the 50s and the 60s, Las Vegas saw further development, but there were also efforts to expose mafia connections with the city’s casinos. Famous singers and entertainers also appeared on the Vegas scene, led by Frank Sinatra.

    The explosive growth of the city was recorded in the 1970s and 1980s, and the author Hunter S. Thompson wrote a great book called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas about his experiences in the city at the time.

    The Late 80s to Present Time

    While the city was predominantly run by organized crime bosses prior to and after the war, the late 1980s saw Las Vegas being taken over by the younger generation of entrepreneurs who turned the place into a more family-oriented location. Big corporations stepped in and built many hotels and casinos over that period.

    With this development, the population grew almost every year and Las Vegas became the largest city in the world founded in the 20th century. The 2007 mortgage crisis stalled the development of the city a bit, but Vegas still remains one of the most popular tourist locations in the US and the most famous gambling city in the world.


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