Las Vegas is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It’s well known for its casinos, hotels, and close proximity to nature. But what many people don’t know is that Las Vegas has a rich history dating back to before it was even called Las Vegas. This blog post will explore the history of Las Vegas and how it became the city we know today. So if you’re curious about the origins of Sin City, keep reading!


Las Vegas Nevada’s History

The Spanish Exploration

During the 19th century, Mexican explorer Antonio Armijo led the first commercial caravan from New Mexico to California, known as the Old Spanish Trail. In 1829, while en route to Los Angeles, the company deviated from the customary way, settling 100 miles (161 kilometers) northeast of present-day Las Vegas. Rafael Rivera and his scouting party traveled west to find water; Rivera left the group to venture into the desert on his own, putting his sights on the oasis of Las Vegas Springs. The valley’s green grass inspired the name, Las Vegas, which means “the meadows.”

Mormon Settlers

Over the next century, Mexican and Mormon settlers came and went from Las Vegas, many on their way to California via the Old Spanish Trail or to take advantage of the California Gold Rush. Mormons from Salt Lake City traveled to Las Vegas to guard a mail route. They constructed adobe buildings, grew fruits and vegetables, and dug for lead. By 1858, Brigham Young, Utah Territory’s governor, had ordered Mormon settlers to leave to defend Salt Lake City against the U.S. Army. Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue host the reconstructed Old Mormon Fort.

The Railroad

In 1890, railroad investors determined that Las Vegas would be a desirable station along the San Pedro, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles train lines, connecting Las Vegas to important Pacific Coast cities. Until this point, little had changed in the city. However, with the advent of the railroad in 1905, Las Vegas exploded, with saloons, businesses, and boarding houses springing up all around town. The railroad was formally established on May 15, 1905. William A. Clark, the owner of the three railroads, auctioned over 1,200 properties in Glitter Gulch in one day.

Nevada Southern Railway


The First Casinos

The Golden Gate Casino, which opened in 1906, is the city’s first and longest-running gaming business. It was a hotel and casino called Hotel Nevada that was located on Fremont Street, once the city’s primary and most significant street. The Golden Gate Casino was considered the pinnacle of luxury at the time. It was extended and renamed Sal Segev (Las Vegas spelled backward) in 1931, but it reverted to its original name in 1974. The original structure still stands today, after more than $12 million in restorations. From 1959 to 2017, the Golden Gate was also known for its inexpensive shrimp cocktail.

Golden Gate Hotel Casino



By the 1930s, Los Angeles residents and Hollywood film workers were vacationing in Las Vegas. Las Vegas’ population topped 5,000 by 1930 and substantially doubled in the next decade due to the warm weather, casinos, and Nevada’s new divorce laws.

First gambling License

A so-called quickie divorce (meaning divorce could be obtained after only six weeks of residency) was appealing to many Hollywood film stars at the time. Thus, these short-term tourists frequently stayed at dude ranches – working ranches that also hosted guests. Gambling became a popular hobby for people waiting for their divorces to be finalized, people on vacation, and Hoover Dam construction workers on their days off as soon as it was legalized again. Mayme Stocker received the first Las Vegas gambling license at the Northern Club.

First gambling License

Credit: Photo By: SUN FILE

First Hotel Casinos

As the demand for hotels, gambling, and entertainment increased, hotels were forced to extend beyond Fremont Street. The 63-room El Rancho opened its doors on 3 April 1941, becoming the Strip’s first casino-hotel. This was quickly followed by the films The Last Frontier (1942), Flamingo (1946), and Thunderbird (1947). Following WWII, many returning troops chose to stay in Las Vegas because it was one of the few places with plenty of jobs, nearly tripling the city’s population between 1940 and 1950.

Hotel El Rancho Vegas


The Mob in Las Vegas

The popularity of El Rancho Vegas in the late 1940s spurred others to establish hotels along Highway 91, which would ultimately become the Strip. East Coast gangster Bugsy Siegel was among these hotel builders, building the Hollywood-inspired Flamingo Hotel in 1946 with the help of fellow mobster Meyer Lansky.

Although Siegel was assassinated in 1947, his vision for Las Vegas was carried out by fellow mobsters. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Riviera, the New Frontier, the Sands, and the Sahara were all built with money from racketeering and drug trafficking. However, many mobsters soon attracted funding from respected organizations such as Wall Street banks and the Mormon Church. Tourists flocked to Las Vegas’ thriving casino industry, many only to watch legendary performers like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Benjamin Siegel

Credit: Photo By:

The Mega Resorts

Howard Hughes, the infamous billionaire and industrialist, stayed at the Desert Inn in 1966. He chose not to leave and instead decided to buy the hotel. He purchased over a dozen more hotels, gradually displacing the city’s mob-owned hotels. Casinos funded by the Mafia had all but vanished by the 1980s.

Steve Wynn initiated a new trend in hotel design and development in 1989: The Mega Hotel. He built the Mirage, Las Vegas’ first opulent resort hotel. By 1858, Utah Territory governor Brigham Young had ordered Mormon settlers to depart to defend Salt Lake City from the U.S. Army. Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue host the reconstructed Old Mormon Fort. Las Vegas has 86,000 hotel and motel rooms in 1994, including 13 of the 20 largest resort hotels.

Howard Hughes


Present Las Vegas

In Las Vegas, entertainment and casinos continue to be the most profitable industries. Las Vegas continues to thrive despite billions of dollars in renovations, remodeled golf courses, new eateries, and the addition of high-profile event facilities. In 2013, over 40 million people visited Sin City.

If you’re looking for a little bit of history before making the big move to Las Vegas, we hope this article has got you covered! From its humble beginnings as a small railroad town to becoming one of the most famous and iconic cities in the world, there’s always something new to learn about Las Vegas. And when you’re ready to make your home in this exciting city, don’t forget to contact USA Lock & Key for all your locksmith needs—we know everything there is to know about keeping homes safe in Vegas!

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