Article by Michael McDougall
Spanish explorers first discovered Las Vegas in 1829, when Rafael Rivera became the first non-Native American to enter the Las Vegas Valley. The valley quickly became popular with travelers traveling to and from California because of its water. In 1855 Brigham Young sent Mormon missionaries into Las Vegas to convert the Paiute Indians that lived in the area, and while the attempt was a failure some of the Mormons remained, and the influence of Mormons on Las Vegas and Nevada remains to this day.
Las Vegas was officially founded as a city in 1905. Clark County was formed in 1909 from the southern portion of Lincoln County, and the City of Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911. Much of the area that is called Las Vegas lies outside of the City of Las Vegas, including almost all of the Las Vegas Strip, which is located in the unincorporated township of Paradise, and is governed by Clark County government, not the City of Las Vegas.
In 1931 the Hoover Dam project begins construction. Money and workers flood the area, while most of the rest of the country is suffering greatly during the depression. Since the federal government is intent on keeping gambling and prostitution away from the Dam workers, Las Vegas flourishes as the closest area in which vices are able to be satisfied. Also in 1931, gambling is legalized and brought out of the shadows. It is unimaginable that Las Vegas would be a major city today without Hoover Dam, both for the money it first brought to the city, and for the water and electricity it provides.
The forties was the first building boom on the Las Vegas Strip. In 1941 the first hotel casino opened on the Las Vegas Strip, the El Rancho Vegas, at approximately where Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard exist today, on the southwest corner. A second hotel casino opened the next year, the Last Frontier, at the sport where the Frontier was imploded recently, less than a mile south of the El Rancho Vegas. And in 1946 the mob came to town and opened the Flamingo at the same location where it sits today, at the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard. Finally, in 1948 the Thunderbird opened almost across the street from the El Rancho Vegas (confusingly, the Thunderbird would eventually be renamed the El Rancho).
Building really takes off in the fifties, with the opening of the Desert Inn in 1950 at the current location the Wynn Las Vegas. In 1952 the Sahara opens at the same location where it stands today, and the Sands opens where the Venetian exists currently. In 1955 three hotel casinos open, including a first for the Las Vegas Strip: The Royal Nevada opens and quickly fails and eventually becomes part of the Stardust, it is the first and fastest hotel casino to fail on the Strip. In addition the Riviera opened where it stands today, and the Dunes opened where Bellagio is now located. In 1956 the Hacienda opens on the far South end of the Strip where Mandalay Bay stands today. In 1957 the Tropicana first opens in the same location that it occupies now, and in 1958 the recently demolished Stardust opened for business. In 1959 the Las Vegas Convention Center opens for business, in an attempt to fill all of the new rooms during off-peak tourist times of the year.
About the Author
Mike McDougall has lived and worked in the Las Vegas area since 1985. He runs Las Vegas Strip Map.info, a site that shows information about the Las Vegas Strip, including the history of the Las Vegas Strip.