50 Facts About The Early Days of Las Vegas
Las Vegas' journey started as a forgotten town and quickly grew to become a gamblers' paradise and a holiday destination. It is one of the world's most loved and well-known tourist destinations. It is known for its many casinos, amazing nightlife, luxury hotels, shopping, high-quality restaurants, and a range of attractions. In addition, Las Vegas is the leading financial, commercial, and cultural center for Nevada. There are many architectural marvels and surprising facts surrounding the city.
Las Vegas Got Its Name In 1829
In 1829, Europeans were the first to visit the valley after Rafael Riviera arrived, searching for a new route from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Its name was inspired by the abundance of wild grass and desert spring waters that are usually so sparse in the Mojave Desert.
However, the springs stopped flowing by 1962, which caused the lush grassy meadows to fade away, and the name Las Vegas is the only remaining evidence of the desert oasis that once existed in the area.
The Mormons Were The First Permanent Settlers
In the second half of the 1800s, more and more pioneers headed west in search of gold. They were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. They built a fort in Las Vegas, which marked halfway between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
The Mormons abandoned the fort just a few years after building it, but they inspired the first pioneer settlements in the area. The remnants of the Mormon fort were reconstructed and can be seen at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.
The City Of Las Vegas Was Founded In 1905
Las Vegas was sparsely populated up until the turn of the century, but that changed after William A. Clark, a mining magnate, arrived. He was the main investor in a Union Pacific Railroad project and recognized the location's potential.
He purchased land, secured water rights to the springs, and built a railroad depot. The city of Las Vegas was founded in 1905 on May fifteenth, when Clark auctioned off his land.
The First Casino, The Golden Gate Casino, Opened In 1906
Las Vegas' first casino was The Golden Gate Casino, and it opened in 1906. The casino was located on Fremont Street, and it was a hotel with a casino called Hotel Nevada. It was expanded in 1931, and the original building still stands today.
The Golden Gate is well-known for its cheap shrimp cocktail, which was served from 1959 until 2017. The hotel has always had gambling facilities, except between 1910 and 1931, because gambling was outlawed.
The First Gambling License Was Issued In 1931
Las Vegas grew very slowly at first, but the gambling district flourished even though the state outlawed gambling. Illegal casinos continued underground up until gambling was legalized again in 1931. It got the nickname Sin City due to the illegal activity that occurred on the two original blocks of Fremont Street.
The first gambling license was issued in 1931, and once gambling was legalized again, it quickly became the favorite pastime of people. The first license was issued to Mayme Stocker at the Northern Club.
Hoover Dam Was Finished In 1936
The construction of the Hoover Dam began in 1928, and by 1936, it was completed in its entirety, an impressive two years ahead of schedule. It is still the most significant development in the city's history.
It brought in new residents, which gave the valley's economy a much-needed boost during the Great Depression. The Hoover Dam also provided the city with water and electricity and continues to attract tourists today.
Las Vegas’ First Two Wedding Chapels Open In 1940
Las Vegas was the perfect wedding destination for couples looking to get married quickly and cheaply. Due to the growing demand of aspiring newlyweds, the city's first two wedding chapels opened in 1940. The most famous one is A Little White Chapel, which is known for its Drive-Thru Tunnel of Vows.
The chapel has hosted the weddings of Frank Sinatra, Michael Jordan, Judy Garland, and Britney Spears. Throughout the years, more than eight hundred thousand couples have been married at the famous chapel.
El Rancho Was The First Hotel-Casino To Open On The Strip
El Rancho opened in 1941, and it became the first casino-hotel on the Strip. The hotel originally included sixty-five rooms with an Old West theme. Not long after the El Rancho opened, it was followed by several other hotel-casinos such as The Last Frontier, Thunderbird, and Flamingo.
After World War II, many returning soldiers decided to settle in Las Vegas because it had plenty of jobs. As a result, the city's population nearly tripled, which is why new hotels and casinos were built.
The Mob Played A Key Role In The Development Of The Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas was an attractive location for organized crime, which is why it quickly became a city run by the mob. Some of the biggest names in the mob all came to Las Vegas rich on cash made from bootlegging spirits during Prohibition. Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Benjamin Siegel all played an important role in the development of the Las Vegas Strip.
The mob built the casinos and theaters and started building hotels on the strip. However, their fortunes quickly ran out, and by the late 1950s, the Nevada Gaming Commission began to curtail the freedom of the gangsters.
Flamingo Was The First Luxury Hotel On The Strip
The Flamingo opened in 1946 by Bugsy Siegel and was the first luxury hotel on the Strip. It was called 'the West's Greatest Resort Hotel,' and its success encouraged more ventures to pop up on the Strip and throughout Las Vegas.
The Flamingo featured lavish shows and accommodations that included comfortable, air-conditioning rooms, gardens, and swimming pools. In addition, it is often credited for popularizing the 'complete experience.'
The Golden Nugget Is The Oldest Las Vegas Hotel-Casino Still Open Today
The Golden Nugget is the oldest Las Vegas hotel-casino still open today. It was first opened in 1946, and its massive neon sign instantly became an icon of Fremont Street.
In addition, the hotel has been featured on the big screen many times, including Elvis Presley's Viva Las Vegas and Diamonds Are Forever. The hotel was the foundation for Steve Wynn's rise to prominence in the casino industry. The hotel was sold to MGM Grand, Inc in 2000.
The Nevada Test Site Earned Las Vegas The Nickname Atomic City
In 1950, the Nevada Test Site was established within the limits of Nellis Air Force Base; the test site earned Las Vegas the nickname Atomic City. Between 1951 and 1992, the test site carried out a total of nine hundred and twenty-eight tests.
In fact, during the 1950s, the test mushroom clouds became a tourist attraction because they could be seen from Downtown hotels. The city even held Miss Atomic Pageants.
The 1950s Featured The Hotel Boom
Many of Las Vegas' most famous hotels opened in the 1950s, which made the city the gambling and entertainment capital of the US. It was called the Hotel Boom of the 1950s, with the Sahara and the Sand, Riveriea, Royal Nevada, Dunes, and Tropicana being built during that time.
The Tropicana opened in 1957, and the Stardust opened in 1958, both being largely responsible for bringing about Las Vegas' Golden Age. Because of so many hotels opening up, it was clear that in order to compete with existing hotels, new ventures would have to be special.
Frank Sinatra Had His First Performance In Las Vegas In 1953
Entertainment was flourishing in Las Vegas but none left the mark that Frank Sinatra did. He first appeared on stage in Las Vegas in 1953 at the Sands Hotel. He headlined some of the biggest stages in the city and headlined with his fellow Rat Pack members Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford.
Sinatra was a Las Vegas fixture for forty-three years. "He brought unmatched excitement to the Strip and defined the word 'singer' for all times." ------ Gregory Peck.
Desegregation In 1960
The Rat Pack was often praised for its desegregation efforts in Las Vegas. Sadly, when Sammy Davis Jr. headlined at the Frontier Casino, he wasn't allowed to stay in the city's hotels, which was the case for all Black performers.
In addition, he wasn't given a dressing room and had to wait outside by the pool between acts. However, Sammy Davis Jr. later refused to work in any establishment with racial segregation until complete desegregation in 1960.
The Las Vegas Sign Went Up In 1959
The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign was first built and installed in 1959 by Western Neon. The sign was designed by Betty Willis, and she considered it a gift to the city, so there is no copyright on it.
The sign is twenty-five feet tall, and after the designer died, May fifth was declared 'Betty Willis Day,' honoring her. However, it has never marked the actual city limits of Las Vegas because it actually sits about four miles from the actual city of Las Vegas.
Howard Hughs Was Instrumental In Changing Las Vegas’ Images
Howard Hughs was a businessman who went on a spending spree after he overstayed his welcome at the Desert Inn. He wouldn't leave, so he started negotiations and ended up buying the hotel. In addition, he purchased the Desert Inn, The Sands, Silver Slipper, Frontier, Castaways, and Landmark.
He was instrumental in changing the city's image to a refined cosmopolitan city with several remodelings and multi-story additions. He paved the way for corporate ownership of hotel casinos.
Liberace Was The Highest-Paid Entertainer For Two Decades
Liberace was the world's highest-paid entertainer for two decades in Las Vegas. He embraced a flamboyant lifestyle that eventually became synonymous with the city itself. He had a nickname of Mr. Showmanship and was dressed in capes and costumes with ostrich feathers.
He would often be chauffeured onstage in a Rolls-Royce or dropped in flying on a wire during his established concert residencies in Las Vegas. "Liberace looks like a cross between Cary Grant and Robert Alda. He has an effective manner, attractive hands, which he spotlights properly, and rings the bell in the dramatically lighted, well-presented, showmanly routine. He should snowball into the box office." ----- Variety.
Elvis Ruled Vegas In The 1970s
Elvis went to Las Vegas for a VIP-only show in 1969, which started his seven-year-long residency at the International Hotel. He performed six hundred and thirty-six sold-out shows and his captivating performances, rock 'n' roll spirit, and flashy outfits propelled Las Vegas to new heights.
Elvis tested the mainstream waters in 1956, then he had his residency, made movies, and got married, and finally, he had his final act. He returned to Las Vegas to perform live, but his life tragically spiraled out of control until his death.
The Original MGM Grand Took 85 Lives
The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino suffered a devastating fire in 1980 that took eighty-five lives. It began from a refrigerated pastry display case in one of the restaurants located on the first floor. The fire engulfed the casino and traveled to the hotel tower.
After the fire, the MGM Grand was rebuilt, costing fifty million, and reopened in 1981. The hotel and casino were reopened with several fire safety features added, which included fire sprinklers and an automatic fire alarm system throughout the property.
The Mirage, Built In 1989, Was The First Hotel To Be Built On The Strip In 16 Years
The Mirage was built when Las Vegas needed a new exciting hotel. The hotel's sparkling exterior featured five-story waterfalls, lagoons, tropical foliage, and a volcano that erupted regularly. The hotel featured three thousand and forty-four rooms, which was the largest in the world at the time.
Its top five floors were only for high-roller games and penthouse suites. It was the first hotel to be built in sixteen years on the Strip. The Mirage went all out and even featured the famous duo, Sigfried & Roy.
In 1998, The Bellagio Signaled The Future
Several hotels have set Las Vegas on a new course, one of them being the Bellagio. The Bellagio hotel opened in 1998 and is one of the most spectacular hotel-casinos to ever open on the Strip.
It features the Fountains of Bellagio, a choreographed water feature with performances set to lights and music, which are performed in an 8.5-acre man-made lake in front of the hotel. It helped create the image of modern Las Vegas with appearances in films such as The Hangover and Ocean's Eleven.
The Historic Westside School Was Built In 1922
The Historic Westside School was the first grammar school in West Las Vegas and was built in 1922. It is the oldest remaining schoolhouse in Las Vegas and was originally built as a two-room schoolhouse with an additional two rooms added in 1928, and in 1948, a second building was added.
It first served local Paiute children, but later the school came to educate African American students almost exclusively. During segregation, it was the only place where African Americans could reside, attend school, or own a business. After desegregation efforts succeeded, the school was closed.
Native Americans Lived In The Las Vegas Valley Over 10,000 Years Ago
Over ten thousand years ago, Native Americans lived in the Las Vegas Valley. Archaeologists discovered plenty of evidence, including baskets, petroglyphs, pictographs, and in diverse locations, they found Gypsum Cave and Tule Springs.
The Paiute Tribe moved into the valley around 700 AD, migrating between nearby mountains in the summer and spending the winters in the valley near Big Springs. So, Native Americans were the first to live in Las Vegas.
Fremont Street Was The First Paved Street In Las Vegas
Fremont Street in Las Vegas was the home of the oldest hotel and casino and the first paved road. Today, Fremont Street houses around ten hotels and casinos. The street dates back to 1905, was paved in 1925, and received the city's first traffic light in 1931.
Many gambling movies and iconic TV shows have been filmed on Fremont Street as well. In 1994, the street was closed to vehicle traffic to begin the construction of the Fremont Street Experience.
The MGM Grand’s Lion Is The Largest Bronze Sculpture In The US
The MGM features a large bronze statue of a lion outside of its front entrance, and it is actually the largest bronze statue in the United States. It weighs one hundred thousand pounds and stands at forty-five feet tall.
The lion is called Leo, and Leo sits on a pedestal at the main entrance. It is a Las Vegas landmark, and in 1998, the lion replaced a stylized lion head because superstitious Asian gamblers avoided it because they thought it would cause bad luck.
The Las Vegas Strip Isn’t Actually In Las Vegas
Interestingly, most of the Las Vegas Strip is actually located in the unincorporated township of Paradise. That was intentionally done because the proprietors of casinos wanted to avoid paying taxes to the City of Las Vegas, so they built their casinos outside the Las Vegas city limits.
However, the city of Las Vegas tried to annex the new area into the city before the casinos knew what was happening. They got wind of the plan and quickly voted to create the township of Paradise, which blocked the city's powerplay.
It Is The Brightest City On Earth
When viewing Earth from space, Las Vegas is the most brightly lit area on the entire planet. The city is known for its famous neon glow, and the brightness also has to do with the density of light in such a small area.
It stands out even more because of the surrounding darkness of the desert. The city's first neon sign first appeared in 1928 at the Overland Hotel, and Las Vegas has an estimated twelve million lights shining every night.
Most Vegas Hotels Don’t Have A Fourth Floor
Most people think that the number thirteen is an unlucky number. However, in Las Vegas, the number four is sometimes looked at as unlucky, especially with Asian guests. In fact, Las Vegas hotels avoid numbering the floors with a four to ward off any superstition.
The word for death in both Japanese and Chinese sounds very similar to the number four, so they feel it's a sign of death. So, most hotels will skip right from the third floor to the fifth floor.
Vegas Vic Is The World’s Largest Mechanical Neon Sign
Vegas Vic is a huge neon sign of a cowboy that was erected on the exterior of The Pioneer Club in Las Vegas in 1951. The sign had human-like abilities to talk and wave its arm, and it received an immediate acceptance by residents and tourists.
It is the largest neon sign in the world and has been reproduced thousands of times around the world. The sign still stands today but is in disrepair, even after being fixed several times. In addition, there was a twin of the Vegas Vic image on another sign in Las Vegas called River Rick.
Las Vegas Boulevard Has Had Several Names
Las Vegas Boulevard is where the Strip is located, and it has gone by several different names in the past. The boulevard has been called 5th Street, Main Street, the Arrowhead Highway, Los Angeles Highway, Salt Lake Highway, US 91, US 93, US 466, and State Route 6.
When I-15 was constructed, Las Vegas Boulevard went from being used as the main road to one that only served as a city street for tourists and locals. It has gone by the name Las Vegas Boulevard since 1959.
The Founder Of FedEx Saved His Company By Gambling In Las Vegas
During the early years of FedEx, it was on the verge of going out of business and couldn't even afford to buy jet fuel for its cargo planes. So, the company's founder, Frederick Smith, took the company's last five thousand dollars and flew to Las Vegas to play blackjack.
He took a gamble, but it paid off because he turned the five thousand into twenty-seven thousand. It was enough money to keep the company afloat and turn things around.
The Lion’s Share Is The Oldest And Last Slot Machine In The MGM
The Lion's Share slot machine is MGM Grand's oldest slot machine. It is twenty years old, but it can't be removed from the casino floor until the jackpot prize is won. For years, the machine has been sitting by itself, as the other machines that used to stand next to it have long retired.
It gained legendary status because it has stubbornly refused to yield its top jackpot since it became the sole remaining 'Lion's Share' themed game on the casino floor roughly fifteen years ago.
Las Vegas Is Spanish For ‘The Meadows’
The city's name, Las Vegas, is actually Spanish for 'The Meadows.' The city is located in the middle of the desert, but there once was an oasis in a valley surrounded by mountains. There were flowers and grass, and it was created from underground artesian springs.
The meadow was the birthplace of the Vegas we know and love today. The springs dried up, and the meadow, of course, went away, but the beauty that once existed inspired the name of one of the most famous cities in the world.
Gambling Was Illegal In Nevada Until 1931
At one time, alcohol and gambling were outlawed in Las Vegas. Nevada officials banned gaming in 1911; however, there were still some illegally operating underground casinos. Over the following years, gaming laws relaxed and slowly started allowing specific games, and by 1919, all cities and counties throughout the state were licensing card rooms.
The card rooms permitted social games like bridge and whist, and in the 1920s, Reno became the state's gambling capital. Thankfully, in 1931, gambling was once again legal.
The First Telephone Was Installed In 1907
The very first telephone was installed in 1907 at the office of Charles Squires, and the second telephone was installed in his home. The phone was a wall-mounted hand-cracked 1907 Kellogg, and the phone number was simply one.
At the site where the first telephone was installed, now is a small bronze plaque set flush with the sidewalk outside the Golden Gate Casino. The plaque reads, "At this site, the first Telephone was installed in Las Vegas."
Moulin Rouge Was The First Integrated Hotel And Casino
Moulin Rouge opened in 1955 in Las Vegas, where the Black population lived. The hotel was very popular with several Black entertainers and became a symbol of Las Vegas' civil rights struggle.
At that time, almost every hotel and casino were completely segregated unless they were the entertainment or the labor force. Vester Heath saw the need for the integrated hotel, and five years later, in 1960, segregation ended.
The Old West Town Of St. Thomas Is Buried In Lake Mead
Lake Mead is a reservoir in Las Vegas that provides most of the city's water supply. In addition, there is an abandoned town underneath the lake. In the 1930s, residents of St. Thomas had to leave because the area flooded.
The town became submerged below the lake, but in the 2000s, the water level dropped, and the town's ruins resurfaced. The ghost town is now located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Benjamin Siegal’s Car Was Buried Under The Flamingo After His Murder In 1947
Benjamin Siegal was a criminal and part of the Bugs-Meyer Gang. He built the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and even had a secret ladder in the Presidential Suite to escape if necessary. A fun fact is that his car was in a tunnel under where the hotel was being built, but it was too expensive to retrieve the car, so the tunnel was filled with cement, burying his car permanently under the Flamingo Hotel.
Siegel established himself as a formidable mastermind of organized crime, forging an underworld empire from gambling, bootlegging, and assassinations. However, after having a bad fight, he was shot several times and killed. The Flamingo's ownership transferred to Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum.
The Fountains And Man-Made Lakes Do Not Use Greywater
The Bellagio fountain and lake contain twenty-two million gallons of water. It is partially filled with well water from a well that was dug several decades ago by a golf course. Two-thirds of the water in the lake was previously used for the course.
In addition, water from the resort's aquatic show called "O" also drains into Bellagio Lake. So the myth that they use greywater is just not true, but it does re-use water, just not water from the hotel.
Las Vegas Is Informally Known As Hawaii’s 9th Island
Las Vegas became unofficially known as the ninth island of Hawaii simply because of the city's large population of Hawaiians. In addition, Las Vegas is based almost entirely on tourism, just like Hawaii. However, it is much cheaper to live in Las Vegas than it is in Hawaii.
Native Hawaiians have been in Las Vegas since the gambling mecca's early years, and it was actually two Hawaiians who pioneered the lounge entertainment scene in the 1950s in Las Vegas.
The Silver Slipper Was The First Casino To Hire Female Card Dealers On The Strip
The Silver Slipper Casino was opened in 1950 and is known for its rotating slipper that sat atop the casino. In 1971, the Silver Slipper was the first to hire a female card dealer, with other hotels following in its footsteps.
The first female dealer was Shirley Brancucci, and she described how nervous she was on her first night. She said, "Some of the people would not play if I was on the game. They would play if I was on the money but not calling the game. So they had me sit on the base all the time."
The Stratosphere Is The Tallest Freestanding Observation Tower In The Nation
The Stratosphere Tower is America's tallest freestanding observation tower, standing at 1,149 feet. At the top, you can get a 360 view of Las Vegas and at the very top is a pod that houses a revolving restaurant, lounges, and observation decks.
The tower also features a hotel and casino, which are situated at the base of the tower. In addition, there is a showroom and shopping mall in the tower. It is located on Las Vegas Boulevard, within city limits.
The Luxor’s Sphinx Is Larger Than The Original
Las Vegas built a duplicate of the Great Spinx of Giza at the Luxor Las Vegas. However, the Spinx in Vegas is much larger than the Egyptian Sphinx of Giza.
The original is sixty-six feet tall, and the Las Vegas version is roughly one hundred and ten feet tall. At night, a beam of light shines out from the top of the pyramid, and tourists like to take selfies with the Sphinx, which is the entrance to the Luxor hotel.
Las Vegas Is Located In The Mojave Desert
Las Vegas is located in the Mojave Desert, which is named for the indigenous Mojave people. Sadly, human development in the major urban and suburban centers of Las Vegas and Los Angeles has had an increasingly damaging effect on the wildlife of the Mojave Desert.
The Mojave Desert is in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Southwestern United States and is located in southeastern California and southwestern Nevada.
Mexican Explorer Antonio Armijo Found The Las Vegas Springs
Antonio Armijo was a Spanish explorer and merchant who is well-known for leading the first commercial caravan party along the Old Spanish Trail. He was the first to pioneer a complete route that traveled the entire length with sixty mounted men and a caravan of animals.
Armijo arrived in Las Vegas in 1829 after separating from his group and came across the Las Vegas Springs. The route was later named the Old Spanish Trail, which was the principal means of transportation between the two Mexican territories.
The Railroad Arrived In 1904
Railroad developers determined that the water-rich Las Vegas would be a prime location for a stop facility and a town. The railroad tracks reached Las Vegas in 1904, and in 1931, the Union Pacific constructed a rail line requiring the construction of five tunnels through the rock hills linking Boulder City to Las Vegas.
Construction of the railroad was completed in 1935; the rails touched some cities and created others, along with bringing people and goods.
First Commercial Flight At Rockwell Field In 1926
The Rockwell Field was opened in 1920 by the Rockwell brothers, and they began carrying mail. Western Air Express began scheduled flights there in 1926. Later, the Rockwell brothers sold the airport, and the airline had to relocate to an airport that had been built northeast of the city.
In 1941, the Rockwell Field became known as McCarran Field. Flights from Las Vegas started with delivering mail, but eventually, they started transporting people.
'Helldorado Days' Began In 1934
Helldorado Days began in 1934 with an annual festival in Las Vegas. It consists of a rodeo, parade, and carnival and was held annually until 1998 when it was suspended. However, it was resumed in 2005 for the City of Las Vegas' centennial celebration.
The festival was initially created to draw people into Las Vegas after the Hoover Dam workers had begun leaving. The original festival did not include a parade and rodeo, but they were added later.