Las Vegas - History
Las Vegas History
The only natural feature to account for the location of Las Vegas is a spring north of downtown. Once used by Paiute Indians on their seasonal visits to the area, it was rediscovered by Mexican scout Rafael Rivera in 1829. The area became known to overland travellers as las vegas - 'the meadows' - a place with reliable water and feed for horses. Las Vegas became a regular stop on the southern emigrant route to California, the Spanish Trail. In the 1850s, Mormons built the town's first structures, a small mission and fort; the fort became a ranch house, but there was little development before the 20th century.
In 1902 the land on which Las Vegas now stands was sold to a railroad company. The area that is now downtown was subdivided when the tracks came through, with 1200 lots sold on 15 May 1905 alone - a date now celebrated as the city's birthday.
As a railroad town, Las Vegas had machine shops, an ice works and a good number of hotels, saloons and gambling houses. The railroad laid off hundreds in the mid-1920s, but one Depression-era development gave the city a new life. The huge Hoover Dam (then known as Boulder Dam) project commenced in 1931, providing jobs in the short term and water and power for the city's long-term growth.
In 1931, Nevada legalised gambling and simplified its divorce laws, paving the way for the first big casino on the Strip, El Rancho, which was built by Los Angeles developers and opened in 1941. The next wave of investors, also from out of town, were mobsters like Bugsy Siegel, who built the Flamingo in 1946 and set the tone for the new casinos - big and flashy, with lavish entertainment laid on to attract high rollers.
The glitter that brought in the more lavish cash-lashers also attracted smaller spenders. Southern California provided a growing market for Las Vegas entertainment, and improvements in transport made it accessible to the rest of the country. Thanks to air conditioning and reliable water supplies, Vegas became one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. In recent years, Vegas has bent over backwards to remake itself into a family resort destination, building theme parks inside its hotels. Hotels have outdone each other with working volcanoes, million-gallon fishtanks and miniature Manhattans. All of this - along with dozens of artificial lakes in the suburbs - has put a huge strain on the city's water supply, but it hasn't slowed the development juggernaut.
Today Las Vegas boasts 19 of the world's 20 largest hotels, attracts 33 million visitors per year, earns over US$5250000000 in annual gaming revenue, and marries over 100,000 people each year. A serious disruption to the city's well-honed rep as a capital of low culture was the 2001 arrival of a Vegas branch of the Guggenheim museum. It's moved in, but it won't have truly arrived until the names Picasso and Cezanne go up in flashy lights on the Strip. There are other cities with terrific entertainment and gaming opportunities, but there is no place in the world like Las Vegas, and no city even pretending to be.