Las Vegas, Nevada goes by many names: Sin City, the City of Lights, the Strip. Now, Las Vegas is known as the entertainment capital of the world. With the flashing lights, world-renown clubs, and non-stop gambling, this really is the city that never sleeps. Was Las Vegas always this glamorous and exciting?
How did Las Vegas turn into the gambling and partying capital we know and love today? What first brought people to this valley in the desert? What happens in Vegas doesn’t have to stay in Vegas. In this article, we’ll uncover the history of Las Vegas to discover how this metropolis of gambling and entertainment built such a reputation for crime and vice.
Before Las Vegas was known as Sin City and all of its other nicknames, it was home to members of the Paiute tribe of Native Americans. According to canyon petroglyphs, these early inhabitants were around for more than 10,000 years. It wasn’t until Rafael Rivera, a Mexican explorer, scouted the area in 1821 in search for a trade route between New Mexico and California.
Rivera named this valley Las Vegas, or “the meadows” in Spanish, after the spring-watered grasses he found. The city remained relatively unchanged for another 80 years until the railroads arrived. In 1905, three railroad lines connected Las Vegas to the rest of the country and effectively welcomed a new era of growth.
The Birth of Las Vegas
Las Vegas officially became a city in 1905. It’s location as an in-between stop that connected cities like Los Angeles and Albuquerque made it the prime spot for wagon trains and railroad stops. It attracted travelers, workers, and farmers alike in its early years.
Las Vegas has gained a reputation for gaming, and this didn’t stop when Nevada became the last state to outlaw gaming and gambling in 1910. In fact, the practice was incredibly common in illicit casinos and speakeasies across the city, and this gave root to organized crime.
Las Vegas saw a major boom with the construction of the massive Boulder Dam (now renamed to the Hoover Dam) in 1931. Thousands of workers flocked to Las Vegas and nearby cities. In the same year, gambling was legalized yet again in Nevada. Casinos and taverns popped up over the city to attract incoming workers.
The Mob and the Age of Glamour in Las Vegas
The Las Vegas strip as we know it today is greatly due to Bugsy Siegel. The first hotel-casino, El Rancho Vegas, opened in 1941 just outside of the city’s jurisdiction. More followed, and this became the area now dubbed “the Strip.” Mobster Bugsy Siegal, backed by East Coast gangsters, opened the Flamingo, the first upscale resort designed after the glamour of Hollywood.
Thanks to Siegal, Las Vegas became a spot for the top Hollywood talent. Though he was murdered in 1947, his vision lived on. Other mobsters built additional luxury hotel-casinos along the Strip, and entertainers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra began to perform in these establishments. By the 1950s, millions of visitors were visiting Las Vegas a year.
Modern Las Vegas
Mob ownership of the Vegas resort-casinos came to an end when Howard Hughes purchased the Desert Inn in 1966. After this, corporate conglomerates and other legitimate investors took a major interest in Las Vegas and the bustling Strip.
In 1989, casino developer Steve Wynn opened the Mirage, giving rise to the Vegas we know today. From then until the present, older casinos were demolished to make room for massive mega-casinos. While the jury is out on whether or not the mob still exists in Vegas, but the city can agree the gangster-influence had a big impact on the modern city.
Today, casinos and glitzy-glamour still reign supreme in Sin city. The city continues to grow, and there are a startling 42 million people pouring into Las Vegas from around the world every year. While it’s hard to see around all of the shining lights and slot machines, you can still catch glimpses of the traveler-haven Las Vegas used to be a century ago across the city.