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Las Vegas: An Unconventional History | Timeline



Spanish explorers led by Antonio Armijo search for water on the route to Los Angeles. Probably directed by the Paiute or Ute peoples, the party finds springs in the middle of the desert, and name the area Las Vegas, Spanish for "the meadows."

May 13: John C. Fremont camps at Las Vegas Springs and makes note of the oasis. His published journal brings more travelers to Las Vegas on their journey west.

January 24: James Wilson Marshal finds gold near Sacramento, California. Within one year, 90,000 people move to California in hopes to strike it rich. The country's center moves west, bringing railroads, banks and telegraphs with it.

Hoping to secure a location between Salt Lake City and Southern California, Mormon missionaries settle in the area of modern Las Vegas. The settlers build a fort, plant gardens, and keep watch over the mail route.

Mormon settlers abandon their post in Las Vegas due to internal disputes about mining. The ranch eventually falls under the ownership of Mrs. Helen Stewart, and becomes the basis for Senator William Clark's Las Vegas Town Site.

April 12: The Civil War begins with the battle at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

October 31: Nevada is admitted to the Union as a state, in part to garner President Abraham Lincoln three more votes in Congress. The capital is Carson City.

April 9: The Civil War ends as General Robert E. Lee surrenders the Confederate Army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

The completion of the transcontinental railroad enables the westward expansion of the country.

U.S. Senator William Clark of Montana begins surveying land in hopes that he can connect the transcontinental railroad from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles through Las Vegas, calling it the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad.

John T. McWilliams buys 80 acres of land, in what is now West Las Vegas, and sells plots. The McWilliams Town Site becomes home to some 1,500 residents with banks, bakeries, saloons and three weekly newspapers.

Senator Clark's railroad is completed, and plans are announced for auctioning off lots on his town site.

May 15: On reduced railroad tickets people travel from Los Angeles and Salt Lake City to buy Las Vegas lots at Senator Clark's auction. Las Vegas is born as Clark sells 600 lots for $265,000.

September 5: The McWilliams Town Site burns to the ground.

The first telephone wires are installed on Fremont Street in Las Vegas in the Hotel Nevada office of Charles "Pop" Squires.

The State of Nevada bans gambling. Illegal gambling continues, and is generally accepted, until gambling becomes legal again in 1931.

March 16: Las Vegas officially becomes a city.

U.S. enters World War I. Las Vegas becomes a busy depot as Nevada's plentiful metals pass through en route to aid the Allied effort in the war.

November 11: World War I ends. The need for Nevada's metals dramatically decreases. Businesses in Las Vegas go bankrupt. Las Vegas, now mostly a railroad maintenance stop, employs about 400-800 people. There is little to draw visitors to the area.

The 18th Amendment, Prohibition, is ratified. All consumption, manufacturing and selling of liquor is banned. Soon after, Congress passes the Volstead Act penalizing those who violate Prohibition.

Initiated by Herbert Hoover, the Colorado River Compact is signed by seven western states to equally divide the water of the Colorado River. Later in the year, the first of the Swing-Johnson bills to authorize a high dam and canal is introduced in Congress.

E.W. Griffith is the first Las Vegan to run for major office in a Nevada general election.

Edward Taylor announces plans for Las Vegas' first "high-class resort," called Twin Lakes. It would include boating, fishing, an outdoor swimming pool and a dance hall.

The Las Vegas City Commission votes to pave Fremont Street from Main to Fifth and then provide an additional $6,000 to match federal funding to pave Fremont to the city limits at San Francisco Street, now Sahara Avenue.

May 23: Daily passenger air service begins in Las Vegas, adding the use of airmail service by Western Express. Las Vegas is the only intermediate stop on the new commercial airway, which places it importantly and definitely on the air map of the country.

During a decade of nationwide Republican ascendancy, Clark County distances itself from the rest of the state and supports Democratic candidates for statewide offices.

Maude Frazier becomes the superintendent of the Las Vegas Union School District and opens a new Las Vegas High School in 1929, reflecting the city's growth. Frazier goes on to lead a fight to create a university in southern Nevada, to create the Clark County School District, and to pass a civil rights bill.

December 21: The Boulder Canyon Project Act passes in the House and Senate, placing the nation behind the construction of a dam on the Colorado River.

Run by Ernie Cragin and William Pike, the El Portal Theatre opens on Fremont Street, just in time for the spread of "talkies" that began replacing silent pictures. The first film it shows is a prerelease of Ladies and the Mob, starring one of the biggest movie stars of the 1920s, Clara Bow.

The Las Vegas Review-Journalbecomes a daily newspaper, reflecting the city's growth -- and the awareness of the potential for additional growth.

September 7: Work begins on the Boulder Dam. Settlers move to Las Vegas in hopes of working on the project, which is only 30 miles away. Between the fall of 1930 and the spring of 1931, more than 42,000 unemployed workers come to Las Vegas in hopes of landing one of the 5,000 jobs available during the Great Depression. Las Vegas markets itself as "The Gateway to the Boulder Dam."

The Union Pacific Railroad connects its Las Vegas tracks with Boulder City.

The Nevada Legislature repeals the act banning gambling. Although gambling has flourished underground, it has officially been illegal for years.

Nevada politician Patrick McCarran is elected to the U.S. Senate. An eventual chairman of the Judiciary Committee, McCarran would become the one of the most powerful politicians in Nevada's history.

Prohibition is repealed.

In order to bring people to the city, Las Vegas boosters begin "Helldorado Days." Las Vegans attempt to capitalize on the city's frontier roots, marketing the city as a vacation spot in the theme of the Old West.

September: President Franklin Roosevelt dedicates the Boulder Dam. With the completion of the dam, Las Vegas once again slows down.

Las Vegas' Highway 91 is partially paved as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal public works program.

Authorities in Los Angeles begin cracking down on illegal gambling circuits. Seeking refuge, many of these ousted gamblers and gangsters flee to Las Vegas.

Los Angeles police commander and casino operation Guy McAfee opens "The 91 Club" on Highway 91, later known as "the Strip."

January: Ria Langham waits out her six-week residency requirement in Las Vegas to divorce her husband Clark Gable. The ensuing publicity briefly garners Las Vegas the title of "Divorce Capital of the World," until the title is seized again by Reno in the 1950s.

The population of Las Vegas is 8,422.

Thomas Hull expands his regional hotel chain, the El Rancho, to build the first resort on Highway 91.

By this time, each week more than 4,000 people were graduating from the Las Vegas Gunnery School, later known as Nellis Air Force Base.

In the midst of World War II, Basic Magnesium, Inc. is soon developing five million pounds of magnesium every day. Crafted into lightweight airplane wings, the magnesium is then shipped across the globe to help Allied efforts in the war.

November: Liberace makes his Las Vegas debut. The showman, who would be described by Time magazine as "a synonym for glorious excess," would become a staple of Vegas entertainment, and by 1972 would be earning a record $300,000 a week, more than any other Vegas headliner at the time.

August 16: World War II ends. Nearby Nellis Air Force Base and the Basic Magnesium, Inc. plant have combined to bring more than 12,000 new residents to Las Vegas. Military men, many of whom were employed at Nellis Air Force Base, stay in the Las Vegas area, lured by cheap land at $5 per acre.

The state of Nevada begins levying gaming taxes. Gaming becomes a supplemental source of the state's revenue.

December 26: The Flamingo Hotel, built with mob money by Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, opens prematurely. Unlike other resorts on the strip that flaunt an Old West style, the Flamingo is a glamorous destination for high rollers. But without a finished hotel, Siegel loses revenue and is forced to close the resort until construction is completed.

March: The Flamingo reopens for business. This time, Siegel's attempt is successful, and the resort begins turning a profit by the end of the month.

June: Ben Siegel is murdered in Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills estate. His death sparks an enormous amount of publicity for Las Vegas, and Americans begin to see Las Vegas as a more glamorous, risky city.

Alamo Airport is purchased by Clark County and eventually named McCarran airport after Nevada U.S. Senator Pat McCarran, for whom the development of aviation had been a cause.

By this time, McCarran Airport directs sixteen daily flights, and the Clark County population has exploded to 48,811. The post-war economic boom of the Fifties gives rise to a resort boom, as owners, following the model set by Siegel's Flamingo, build up resorts on the Strip. The majority of these resorts are funded by Syndicate money.

Spring: The Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, known popularly as the Kefauver Committee, hearings begin. Senator Estes Kefauver and his colleagues interrogate hundreds of witnesses in fourteen cities over the course of fifteen months in an investigation of organized crime in America. Some 30 million Americans watch the hearings broadcast live on television.

November 15: The Kefauver Committee comes to Las Vegas. The committee hears the testimony of merely six witnesses, and after less than a full day of inquiries, calls the Las Vegas portion of the investigation to an end.

December 18: President Harry Truman approves the creation of the Nevada Proving Grounds, the only peacetime, above ground nuclear testing facility in the continental United States. Merely 65 miles away, Las Vegas is the nearest city to the proving grounds.

January 27: The first of a series of nuclear tests occurs on the Nevada Proving Grounds, 65 miles from downtown Las Vegas. There were 235 aboveground tests, roughly one every three weeks, for the next 12 years. Capitalizing on the publicity garnered by the tests, Las Vegans begin marketing the detonations as one of their city's attractions.

April 22: For the first time, the press is invited to view and broadcast the detonation of a nuclear device on the Nevada Proving Grounds. Americans watch the detonation of the 31-kiloton device from the safety of their living rooms. The atomic craze sweeps the nation, and Las Vegas becomes the "Atomic City."

An estimated eight million people visit Las Vegas each year.

The Moulin Rouge Hotel-Casino, co-owned by boxer Joe Louis, opens. It is the first establishment on the Vegas Strip in which African American staff, entertainers and guests are not restricted. The hotel is deemed a national historic site in 1992.

In an attempt to provide greater oversight of gaming, the Gaming Control Board is created within the Nevada Tax Commission. The Board makes a change requiring all shareholders of a casino to pass a gaming review board.

January 10: Topless showgirls make their Las Vegas debut with Minsky's Follies at the Desert Inn.

April: The Las Vegas Convention Center opens one block from the Strip. The center is a 90,000 square foot convention hall seating 6,300.

The Nevada State Legislature creates the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Betty Willis designs "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas." In 1959, when the sign is completed, Willis sells it for $4,000 to Clark County officials, who place the sign on an island on the southern tip of the Strip, where it remains to this day.

The population of Clark County reaches 128,732.

March 25: One day before a planned protest, NAACP members, Las Vegas' mayor, governor and businessmen meet and agree to lift all Jim Crow restrictions. While it will be more than ten years before the city is fully integrated, the swiftness with which the agreement is made is proof that the smooth operation of business was more important than outside cultural forces.

September: United Airlines provides nonstop jetliner service to McCarran Airport. By 1963, the airport serves 1.5 million passengers annually.

Huge airport relocation and expansion project completed at McCarran Airport to accommodate increasing customers and flights.

The Atomic age comes to an end when the Limited Test Ban Treaty goes into effect, banning aboveground nuclear testing at the Nevada Proving Grounds site. Underground testing continues for the next thirty years.

The Green Felt Jungle, an exposé on the organized crime connections in Las Vegas, is published. Along with a secret FBI investigation of the Syndicate's "skim," Las Vegas' tarnished image continues to draw tourists.

Thanksgiving: Howard Hughes arrives in Las Vegas, taking over the top two floors of the Desert Inn. For four years, Hughes remains in his room, from where he negotiates business deals that change Las Vegas forever.

April: Hughes buys the Desert Inn instead of submitting to eviction. It is the first of a slew of hotels he buys in the next three years.

Nevada legislature passes the 2nd Corporate Gaming Act, paving the way for corporations to own casinos.

July: At a cost of $80 million, Kirk Kerkorian builds the International Hotel, the largest in the country, with 1,500 guest rooms and three showrooms.

July 26: Elvis Presley debuts his Las Vegas act at the International, eventually signing a five-year contract for four weeks, twice a year for a sum of $125,000 per week. Between 1969 and 1977, Elvis plays Las Vegas exclusively at the International, 837 shows in total.

The population of Clark County reaches 277,230.

Thanksgiving: Hughes leaves Las Vegas four years after arriving. In that time, Hughes had become Nevada's largest private employer, largest casino owner, largest property owner and largest mining claims owner. Hughes' ventures also lead to the downfall of Attorney General John Mitchell, who is bribed not to file anti-trust action against Hughes' casino acquisitions. But more importantly to Las Vegans, Hughes' presence had put Las Vegas back in the country's good graces, making way for the city's corporate, mainstream era.

Kerkorian opens the MGM Grand hotel. At a cost of $106 million, the hotel has 2,100 guest rooms, five gourmet restaurants and the world's largest casino. At 26 stories high, the MGM Grand is the tallest casino in the free world.

The revenue generated by Nevada gaming amounts to more than $1 billion dollars.

Gambling is made legal in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Las Vegas, no longer the sole gambling destination in the country, must now compete. With Atlantic City's proximity to the more populated Eastern shore, the city sees twice as many gamblers as Las Vegas by the end of the decade.

Las Vegas celebrates its 75th birthday. The county's population is 463,087.

November: The MGM Grand Hotel catches fire. In all, 85 people are killed and 700 are injured. A few months later, a fire erupts in the Las Vegas Hilton, killing eight.

Trans World Airline cancels its nonstop service from New York City to Las Vegas. The cancellation is part of an era in which Las Vegas' growth has stalled.

Using junk bonds to finance construction, Steve Wynn builds the Mirage, the first new resort on the Strip in 16 years. With 3,000 rooms, at a cost of $640 million, the Mirage is more than two times the size of the MGM Grand. The largest casino in the world, the Mirage features a host of attractions, including a 54-foot manmade volcano, which erupts every half hour.

Clark County's population reaches 770,280.

December 18: The mega-resort era comes to a head as the largest hotel in the world, Kirk Kerkorian's new MGM Grand Hotel & theme park, opens on the Las Vegas Strip. At a cost of $1 billion dollars, the hotel boasts a 33-acre theme park, a casino, 12 theme restaurants, 3 swimming pools, five tennis courts, arena, and 5,009 hotel rooms.

At 37 million tourists annually, Las Vegas is the most visited place in the world. By this time, Las Vegas is seen as a resort destination, and the revenue earned from entertainment surpasses that earned by the casinos.

Clark County's population reaches 1,620,748.

By this time, gaming generates 40 percent of Las Vegas' revenue.

McCarran International Airport annually sees 42 million passengers through its gates. It is the 12th busiest airport in the world and is unique in having more than 1,000 slot machines throughout its terminals.

One of the nation's fastest growing counties, Clark County welcomes more than 5,000 new residents each month. The County makes up 75 percent of Nevada's total state population.

More than 38 million tourists come to Las Vegas each year.

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