You may know Las Vegas to be all shiny lights, casinos, and buffets, but it wasn’t always that way. Las Vegas has a rich history of events that led it to be the entertainment capital it is today.
In 1829 a Mexican explorer named Antonio Armijo and his companions were crossing from New Mexico to Los Angeles on a commercial caravan via the Old Spanish Trail. During the trip, a group of travelers veered off the path and ended up 100 miles off of what is present-day Las Vegas. Antonio Armijo split from the group to ride west and find water. He came across the oasis of Las Vegas Springs. Armijo named the area “Las Vegas,” meaning “the meadows,” for the luscious grass found growing in the valley.
In 1855, a Mormon community led by William Bringhurst chose to settle in Las Vegas while traveling from Utah to California. Soon, other Mormon missionary groups followed. The settlers left just a few years later after disputes between the different Mormon leaders and due to difficulties growing produce.
In 1905, the San Pedro, Los Angels, & Salt Lake Railroad project was finished. The railroad line looked to link the three major cities together and was mostly backed by U.S. Senator William Andrews Clark. This railroad helped to put Las Vegas on the map, and with it came the opening of saloons, stores, and lodges.
Gambling Captial: Legal and Illegal
Many have linked the railroad to the inception of Las Vegas as a gambling town. The city was mostly made up of railroad workers and ranchers, so the demand for drinking, gambling, and prostitutes was high. In 1910 Nevada tried to ban gambling, but it didn’t deter the public much. Underground casinos and illegal speakeasies were everywhere. This blatant disregard for the law brought many East Coast organized crime members over to the city.
In 1921, the gambling law was reversed, and Las Vegas could freely gamble once more. New, large casinos opened up, along with showgirl venues and hotels. Today there is so much more to Vegas than gambling.
After seeing the success of Las Vegas’ first hotel (the El Rancho on Highway 91), other entrepreneurs were inspired to open up adjoining hotels. All of these hotels on Highway 91 would eventually become what we know as the Vegas Strip today. Some of the hotel owners were East Coat mobsters, such as Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel.
No More Gangsters
Billionaire Howard Hughes is said to have brought down the mobster-era of Las Vegas. In 1966, Hughes fell in love with Vegas and purchased more than a dozen hotels. By the 1980s, he pushed out all the mobster-financed hotels.
Today, Las Vegas is known for its nightlife, famous chefs and fabulous food, casinos and gambling tables, shopping, shows, and conferences. People from all over the world come for different reasons but always leave with memories to last a lifetime. In 2019, Las Vegas saw over 42.5 million visitors, a number that continues to grow year after year.
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