A Brief History of Las Vegas

If you’re looking to gamble, catch some shows, and enjoy some of the world’s finest cuisine, Las Vegas is undoubtedly one of the best cities to visit.

Sin City, as it is often called, has now existed for well over 100 years, and it has quite the fascinating history.

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Curious what it is? Then let’s jump right into an overview of the biggest milestones in the history of this action-packed city.

1905 – The City of Las Vegas is Founded

On May 15, 1905, a total of 110 acres of arid land were auctioned off by the railroad company. This plot was located between Garces Avenue to the south, Stewart Avenue to the north, Fifth Street to the east (now known as Las Vegas Boulevard), and Main Street to the west.

This was done primarily to create a refueling point and rest stop for the rail lines that passed through the area. Thus, Las Vegas, an official railroad town that linked Salt Lake City with Southern California, was born.

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The man responsible for the founding of Las Vegas was J. T. McWilliams, a railroad surveyor tasked with creating a link between the two aforementioned areas.

1911 – Las Vegas is Incorporated

Las Vegas was officially incorporated on June 1, 1911. All residents of the then-unincorporated Township of Las Vegas voted on incorporation, with only 57 opposing and 168 being in favor of the motion.

One could say that this is the actual date when Las Vegas became an official city. It is interesting to note that both gambling and alcohol were illegal in Las Vegas from 1910 until the 1930s.

 1922 – Las Vegas Gets its First School

When the West Side School was built in 1922, it became the first school in Vegas where children could learn grammar. This is also the oldest schoolhouse in Las Vegas that remains to this day. In fact, it is so historic that it is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places as well as the Las Vegas Historic Property Register.

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1931 – The Liberalization of Divorce Laws, the First Gaming License, and the Beginning of Sin City

Up until now, the history of Las Vegas might seem somewhat uneventful, but in 1931, the divorce laws in Nevada were liberalized. This means that after just six weeks of living in Las Vegas, a couple could get a divorce, which was at the time one of the most liberal divorce laws in the whole country.

Many of these short-term residents stayed at dude ranches, which allowed guests to stay for free as long as they helped around the property. At the time, such divorces were viewed as sinful, which is where many assume the name Sin City comes from.

Around the same time, construction on the Hoover Dam officially began, thus bringing in thousands of workers to Las Vegas. Although this time in history is now known as the Great Depression, the influx of workers brought a great economic advantage to Las Vegas.

Furthermore, this year also marked the end of prohibition, as alcohol officially became legal once again.

The authorities saw just how profitable gambling could be, which is why the first gaming license in all of Nevada was officially granted to Mayme Stocker and the Northern Club.

Many see this event as the start of Las Vegas becoming a gambling hub. Interestingly enough, this is also when mobsters entered the fray and brought plenty of criminal activity to the city.

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Casino & Sports

Within the span of just one year, the city changed rapidly and became a hub for gambling, alcohol, and mobsters.

1941 Onward – Enter the Hotels

Now that most of Vegas was becoming a gambling hub, people needed a place to stay so they could spend their money over multiple nights. This is why various hotels started popping up, including El-Rancho Hotel-Casino, officially the first themed hotel and casino resort on the Strip.

It wasn’t long before more themed hotels and casinos followed, including the El Cortez Hotel & Casino in 1941, the Last Frontier in 1942, the Flamingo in 1946, and the Thunderbird in 1948.

Several of these hotels were the brainchildren of notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel, who had heard about the business opportunities that Vegas offered and wanted to get in on them. Siegel’s vision for the luxury Flamingo Hotel and Casino resort included entertainment, fine dining, and a large casino floor featuring a myriad of gambling options. These included the three-reel slot machines of the day (often referred to as “one-armed bandits”) that are now considered casino classics.

This formula proved so effective that many other casinos on the Strip soon began emulating it, which rapidly turned Las Vegas into the gambling capital of the world.

1950 – The Mob Hearings

Thanks to the explosion of casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, other mobsters also experienced quite the upturn. The city was starting to become rife with mafia activity and crime.

For this reason, in 1950, Tennessee Congressman Carrey Estes Kefauver held a series of hearings, known as the Kefauver Hearings, into the city’s mob activity.

These hearings officially confirmed that there was organized crime in Las Vegas and that law enforcement was not doing anything about it. In fact, they were actively allowing it to happen.

1960s – Casinos and Hotels Undergo Extensive Renovations and Remodeling

It quickly became evident that Las Vegas would be one of the country’s biggest financial hubs, which is why, during the 1960s, most of the hotels and casinos on both the Strip and Fremont Street started undergoing renovations and remodeling.

Many of them started adding multiple stories to their original ground-level frameworks. Howard Hughes is a famous name in the history of Las Vegas, as he had purchased a series of hotels and other businesses. It is said that his presence laid the foundation for the corporate ownership of hotel-casinos that would ensue.

1985 – Las Vegas Explodes

In roughly 1985, the population of Las Vegas started increasing drastically, at about 7% every year, which resulted in the population doubling between 1985 and 1995. It went from just over 186,000 residents to nearly 370,000 residents.

1990s – Enter the Fremont Street Experience and Much More

In 1995, the so-called Fremont Street Experience, a $70 million canopy located above Fremont Street, opened. Known for providing visitors with one of the biggest and brightest sound and light shows on the planet, this attraction officially put an end to automobile traffic on the street.

In general, the 1990s were phenomenal for Vegas in terms of growth, as many more theme hotels were created during this time. Planet Hollywood, Bellagio, and the MGM Grand all opened up in the 1990s and eventually became some of the most legendary casinos in history.

2000s to Present Day – The Fremont East District is Developed and Construction Continues

In 2007, a three-block area of downtown Las Vegas known as the Fremont East Entertainment District opened. This was a part of the Redevelopment Agency’s revitalization efforts to attract many more cocktail lounges, entertainment hotspots, and nightclubs that were not part of the gaming industry.

This was in part thanks to the fact that the authorities had finally put an end to organized crime in Las Vegas, at least for the most part, which made the city more of a family-friendly destination.

It was also during this time that some higher-end establishments were brought to the area, including The Cosmopolitan and Palazzo. As a result, Las Vegas now enjoys more visitors, more revenue, and more gaming than ever!

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