Las Vegas is one of the most famous and popular cities in the world, attracting millions of visitors every year who come to enjoy its dazzling casinos, spectacular shows, and vibrant nightlife. But how did this city emerge from the desert and become the Entertainment Capital of the World? In this article, we will explore the fascinating history of Las Vegas, from its origins as a humble oasis to its transformation into a global tourist destination.
The Early Days of Las Vegas
The area that is now Las Vegas was originally inhabited by the Southern Paiute, a Native American tribe that lived in the canyons and mountains of Southern Nevada. They were hunter-gatherers who relied on the natural resources of the land, such as plants, animals, and water. The name Las Vegas means “the meadows” in Spanish, and it was given by Rafael Rivera, a member of a Spanish trading party that passed through the area in 1829. He was the first European to discover the artesian wells that created a green oasis in the desert.
The first permanent settlers in Las Vegas were Mormon missionaries who arrived in 1855. They built a fort near one of the springs and tried to convert the local Native Americans to their faith. However, they faced many challenges, such as water scarcity, extreme heat, and internal conflicts. They abandoned the fort in 1857 and returned to Utah.
The next wave of settlers came in 1864, when the U.S Army established a fort near the old Mormon fort to protect the mail route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. The fort was named Fort Baker, after Edward Dickinson Baker, a U.S senator who died in the Civil War. The soldiers also built a small town around the fort, which became known as Las Vegas.
The Birth of Modern Las Vegas
The turning point in the history of Las Vegas came in 1905, when the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad connected the city with Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. This opened up new opportunities for trade and tourism and attracted many farmers, miners, and businessmen to Las Vegas. The city was officially incorporated in 1911 and became part of Clark County.
The development of Las Vegas accelerated in 1931 when two major events occurred: the legalization of gambling in Nevada and the construction of the Hoover Dam (originally called Boulder Dam). The dam project brought thousands of workers to the area, who needed entertainment and recreation after their long shifts. The city responded by building casinos, hotels, bars, and theaters along Fremont Street, which became known as Glitter Gulch. The dam also provided cheap electricity and water for the growing city.
The Golden Age of Las Vegas
The 1940s and 1950s are considered the golden age of Las Vegas, when it became a glamorous destination for celebrities, politicians, and tourists from all over the world. The main attraction was the Strip, a stretch of highway south of downtown that featured lavish resorts with extravagant themes.
Some of the most famous hotels on the Strip were:
- El Rancho Vegas (the first hotel on the Strip), which had a western theme and offered rodeos and horseback riding.
- Flamingo (opened by mobster Bugsy Siegel), which had a pink neon sign and a tropical garden with live flamingos.
- Sahara (with an Arabian theme), which had a giant camel statue and a Moroccan-style pool.
- Sands (where Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack performed), which had a modern design and a famous sign that said “A Place in the Sun”.
- Dunes (with a Middle Eastern theme), which had a dome-shaped entrance and an 18-hole golf course.
- Stardust (with a space theme), had a huge sign that said “Stardust” in atomic letters and a rocket-shaped fountain.
- Riviera (with a European theme), which had a Monte Carlo-style casino and a showroom that hosted top comedians like Bob Hope and Red Skelton.
- Tropicana (with a tropical theme), which had a lagoon-style pool with waterfalls and palm trees.
- Caesars Palace (with a Roman theme), which had a replica of the Colosseum and statues of gods and goddesses.
These resorts offered not only gambling but also world-class entertainment, such as musicals, comedies, magic shows, circus acts, and concerts by famous artists like Elvis Presley, Liberace, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and many more. They also hosted major sporting events like boxing matches featuring Muhammad Ali and more.