Once just a desolate desert, Las Vegas has evolved into a thriving metropolis that draws millions of visitors from all over the world. From its earliest inhabitants to the construction of the Hoover Dam and the rise of the world-famous casino industry, the history of Las Vegas is full of fascinating stories that have helped shape the city into what it is today.
The First Inhabitants: The canyons surrounding Las Vegas were inhabited almost 10,000 years ago, and the Paiute Tribe settled in the area almost 1,500 years ago. The first European settler, Rafael Riviera, arrived in 1821 and named the area ‘Las Vegas’ due to the grasslands fed by a small river.
From Mexico to USA: The valley and its surrounding area were controlled by the Mexicans until 1848, when it was ceded to the USA. The area was considered as a settlement when a group of Mormons settled in the area, but they soon left, leaving behind a fort that was then occupied by Octavius Gass who named the area surrounding Las Vegas, “Los Vegas Rancho”.
The Railway Solution: The arrival of railway lines in 1905 allowed Las Vegas to be connected to the major rail network and to the Pacific seaboard. The town began offering quick divorces and marriages, and the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931 kick-started the economy, with Fremont Street becoming a hub of casinos, bars, and shows.
The Start of the Real Vegas: Gambling was made legal in 1931, and the construction of the Hoover Dam project attracted thousands of workers to the area, kick-starting the economy. The El Rancho resort attracted other hoteliers, and before long, ‘The Strip’ was born. The Flamingo, opened by Bugsy Siegel in 1946, attracted many celebrities but Siegel was murdered just a year later.
The Rise of the Real Vegas: Over the next two decades, money from the mob’s activities helped fund the opening of many resorts such as The Riviera and The Sands. By the mid 1950s, Las Vegas was receiving over 8 million tourists a year, with names such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra part of the main attractions.
My, How She Grew: Las Vegas continued to blossom, attracting billionaire investors such as Howard Hughes, who bought the Desert Inn and invested over R300m in the hotel industry. Steve Wynn opened The Mirage, offering more than just gambling, and many older casinos were demolished to make way for mega-resorts.
Vegas as We Know It Today: Today, Las Vegas remains the largest single contributor to the local economy, drawing around 40 million tourists every year. Despite economic downturns, the city continues to thrive and evolve, solidifying its place as a global gambling and entertainment mecca.