The History of Las Vegas - One of America's Most Iconic Cities

Las Vegas History

The history of Las Vegas goes back over 10,000 years when the earliest visitors to the Las Vegas area were nomadic Paleo-Indians. 

In 1829, Rafael Rivera is credited as the first non-Native American to encounter the Las Vegas valley. That same year, trader Antonio Armijo, led a 60-man party along the Spanish trail to Los Angeles, California. While on this journey the area was named “Las Vegas,” which is Spanish for “the meadows.” 

In 1844 John C. Fremont, arrived in Las Vegas and his writings helped lure pioneers to this area. Eventually, Downtown Las Vegas would name Fremont Street after John Fremont. 

In 1855, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chose Las Vegas as the site to build a fort halfway between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Members of the church would travel to gather supplies. The fort wouldn’t last long though because they abandoned it several years afterward. The remainder of this Old Mormon Fort can still be seen at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue.

In 1905 Las Vegas was founded as a city. 110 acres of land adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks were auctioned in what would become the downtown area. In 1911, Las Vegas was incorporated as a city.

The next big moment for Las Vegas was in 1931. At that time, Nevada legalized casino gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. Construction on the nearby Hoover Dam begin 1931 as well. As a result of the influx of construction workers and their families, Las Vegas was able to avoid economic calamity during the Great Depression. The construction work on the Hoover Dam was completed in 1935.

Las Vegas Army Airfield Gunnery School was established in 1941. This military base is now known as Nellis Air Force Base.

Following World War II, lavishly decorated hotels, gambling casinos, and big-name entertainment became synonymous with Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Strip became a national sensation in the 1950s, with the openings of the following major casinos and properties:

  • Desert Inn (1950s)
  • Sahara (1952)
  • Riviera (1955)
  • Dunes (1955)
  • Royal Nevada (1955)
  • Tropicana (1957)
  • Stardust (1958)

Entertainers and performers that were popular among American households were the hot commodities in town. As such, casino owners paid them large sums for bookings at hotel showrooms on the strip.

Top entertainers in the 1950s and 1960s included:

  • Frank Sinatra
  • Dean Martin
  • Sammy Davis Jr.

Their wild performances and antics made Las Vegas a center of American show business.

By 1959, Clark County's casinos took in more than $100 million and had 11,810 hotel rooms. By this time, Las Vegas was also evolving into a top location for conventions and conferences.