Tribute to the Visionaries That Helped Build Las Vegas

Las Vegas Visionaries

If it wasn't for iconic visionaries and ambitious entrepreneurs, Las Vegas would still be a plot of land in the middle of the desert. The men on this list had the passion and perseverance to turn Las Vegas into the entertainment capital of the world. This is our tribute to the men that built Las Vegas.

Steve Wynn

Steve Wynn is an American real estate businessman. Early in his career he oversaw the construction and operation of several notable Las Vegas and Atlantic City hotels, including:

  • the Golden Nugget
  • The Mirage
  • Treasure Island
  • the Bellagio

Steve Wynn played a pivotal role in the resurgence and expansion of the Las Vegas Strip in the 1990s. In 2000, Wynn sold his company, Mirage Resorts, to MGM Grand Inc., resulting in the formation of now MGM Resorts International.

Mr. Wynn took Wynn Resorts Limited public in 2002. On April 28, 2005 he opened his most expensive resort at the time, the Wynn Las Vegas, on the site of the former Desert Inn. Built at a cost of $2.7 billion, it was the largest privately funded construction project in the nation as of 2005. In the summer of 2008, hiring began for Encore Las Vegas, the newest in Wynn's collection of resorts. The tower of Encore is modeled after the Wynn Las Vegas tower, and they share the same "property" though they are separate hotels.

Steve Wynn, his wife, and Vassili Sulich. Supporting the Nevada Dance Theater
Steve Wynn, his wife, and Vassili Sulich - Source: UNLV Digital Collections

Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes was an American business magnate, investor, record-setting pilot, engineer, film director, and philanthropist, known during his lifetime as one of the most financially successful individuals in the world. The wealthy and aging Hughes, accompanied by his entourage of personal aides, began moving from one hotel to another, always taking up residence in the top floor penthouse. On November 24, 1966, Hughes arrived in Las Vegas by railroad car and moved into the Desert Inn. Because he refused to leave the hotel and to avoid further conflicts with the owners, Hughes bought the Desert Inn in early 1967. Between 1966 and 1968, he bought several other hotel-casinos, including:

  • the Castaways
  • the New Frontier
  • the Landmark Hotel and Casino
  • the Sands

Fun Fact: He bought the small Silver Slipper casino for the sole purpose of moving its trademark neon silver slipper; visible from Hughes' bedroom, as it had apparently kept him awake at night.

Hughes wanted to change the image of Las Vegas to something more glamorous. He wrote in a memo to an aide, "I like to think of Las Vegas in terms of a well-dressed man in a dinner jacket and a beautifully jeweled and furred female getting out of an expensive car.

Howard Hughes in front of his biplane in 1934
Howard Hughes in front of his biplane in 1934 - Source: UNLV Digital Collections

Kirk Kerkorian

Kirk Kerkorian was an Armenian-American business man. Kerkorian was one of the important figures in the shaping of Las Vegas and, with architect Martin Stern, Jr. described as the "father of the mega-resort". He built the world's largest hotel in Las Vegas three times:

  • the International Hotel (opened in 1969),
  • the MGM Grand Hotel (1973)
  • the MGM Grand (1993)
Kirk Kerkorian at the construction site of the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1968
Kirk Kerkorian at the construction site of the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1968 - Source: Don English

Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson is an American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation. In 1988, Adelson and his partners purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the former hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. The following year, Adelson and his partners constructed the Sands Expo and Convention Center, then the only privately owned and operated convention center in the U.S.

Thomas Hull

Thomas E. Hull is the founder of the Las Vegas Strip. His resort, the El Rancho Vegas, put the Strip on the map and make it the most unique and brightly lit three miles in the world. According to a popular Las Vegas legend, one hot summer day, hotelier Tommy Hull was driving down the old LA Highway towards Las Vegas when his car broke down.  While waiting for a tow truck, he started to count the cars that drove by him.   He began to envision a resort hotel and casino with a pool out front that would entrance the carloads of people as they drove along the highway.

Thomas E Hull and wife Jerry inside the El Rancho Vegas Hotel shortly after it opened (Jan. 1942)
Thomas Hull and wife Jerry Hull inside the El Rancho Vegas - Source: UNLV Digital Collections


There you have it. The men on this list helped shape what we all know as Las Vegas today. Without them, one can't quite say that Las Vegas would be the same. I don't know about you, but I'm thankful these men had the vision and passion to turn Las Vegas into an iconic American destination. Looking for more Las Vegas History, we have a whole section of our website dedicated to this topic.