Las Vegas was given its name by Spaniards in the Antonio Armijo party, who used the water in the area while heading north and west along the Old Spanish Trail from Texas. In the 1800s, areas of the Las Vegas Valley contained artesian wells that supported extensive green areas or Meadows (Vega in Spanish), hence the name Las Vegas.
John C. Frémont traveled into the Las Vegas Valley on May 3, 1844, while it was still part of Mexico. He was a leader of a group of scientists, scouts and observers for the United States Army Corps of Engineers. On May 10, 1855, following annexation by the United States, Brigham Young assigned 30 Mormon missionaries led by William Bringhurst to the area to convert the Paiute Indian population. A Fort was built near the current downtown area, serving as a stopover for travelers along the “Mormon Corridor” between Salt Lake and the briefly thriving Mormon colony at San Bernardino, California. Las Vegas was established as a railroad town on May 15, 1905, when 110 acres owned by Montana Senator William A. Clark’s San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Railroad, was auctioned off in what is now downtown Las Vegas. Las Vegas was part of Lincoln County until 1909 when it became part of the newly established Clark County. Las Vegas became an incorporated city on March 16, 1911 when it adopted its first charter.
Major events in Las Vegas’ history include:
- Establishment of Las Vegas as a railroad town (May 15, 1905).
- Legalization of gambling (March 19, 1931).
- Completion of Hoover Dam (October 9, 1936).
- Opening of Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel on what would become the Las Vegas Strip (December 26, 1946).
- Atmospheric nuclear testing (1951 to 1962).
- The floods of 1955, 1984, 1999, and 2003.
- MGM Grand Hotel fire (November 21, 1980), the worst disaster in Nevada history.
- Opening of the Mirage (November 22, 1989), which began the era of megaresort casinos.
- 100th birthday, or Centennial, of Las Vegas (May 15, 2005).
Las Vegas started as a stopover on the pioneer trails to the west, and became a popular railroad town in the early 1900s. It was a staging point for all the mines in the surrounding area, especially from the town of Bullfrog, that shipped their goods out to the country. With the growth of the railroads, Las Vegas became less important, but the building of the Hoover Dam injected new blood into Las Vegas and the city has never looked back. Federal dollars from Hoover Dam soon converted to tourist dollars after the dam was built. The increase in tourism and the legalization of gambling led to the advent of the casino-hotels for which Las Vegas is famous.
The constant stream of tourist dollars from the hotels and casinos was augmented by a new source of federal money. This money came from the establishment of what is now Nellis Air Force Base. The influx of military personnel and casino job-hunters helped start a land building boom which still goes on today.
Las Vegas has also benefitted from the economic woes of California, whose high-tax, high-regulation business climate has caused companies desiring or needing a West Coast presence to relocate to more business-friendly Nevada.