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While most people think of Las Vegas as being a desert, prehistoric southern Nevada was a virtual marsh. Abundant water fed lush vegetation which, in turn, supported animals, both large and small.
Time passed, the landscape changed and the marsh receded. Mighty rivers that had once flowed acrossed the land, disappeared beneath it, and the lush vegetation that had been wetlands dried into an arid desert. The rivers became occasional springs, and the springs became occasional oasis. Such was the state of the area when the name "Las Vegas" was coined in 1829 by a young Spaniard named Rafael Rivera, the first European to find the valley. Rivera discovered an oasis of wild grasses fed by spring water.
In 1844, famed "Pathfinder" John C. Fremont and his caravan stopped in Las Vegas on his return trip from California.
During this time, other pioneers begin moving into the area and the Pony Express established a route through parts of Nevada to deliver mail.
In 1859, large deposits of gold and silver were discovered beginning the state's mining industry. The discovery had the added effect of causing a major influx of settlers hoping to "strike it rich."
In 1864, Nevada (which means "snow clad" in Spanish) was admitted into the union as the 36st state.
Farmers move in when the State Land Act of 1885 offers sections of land at $1.25 per acre and agriculture becomes a dominant industry for the next 20 years.
The completion of the main railway, linking Southern California with Salt Lake City, establishes Las
Vegas as a railroad town. The availability of water makes Las Vegas an
ideal refueling point and rest stop. The railroad is the principal industry
in Las Vegas for the next 25 years.
In 1909 Las Vegas becomes the county seat for the newly established Clark County. Before this, the city was governed as part of Lincoln County. Las Vegas adopts its first charter on March 16, 1909 and becomes an incorporated city. While Clark County has a population of about 3,321 in 1909, the newly formed City of Las Vegas has only about 800 people residing in its approximate 19 square mile area (which, at the time, was less than 1 percent of Nevada's total population.)
The State of Nevada legalized gambling on March 19, 1909 and one month later, the City of Las Vegas issues six gambling licenses.
At this same time, divorce laws are liberalized in the State of Nevada, making residency easier to attain. (Residency was, and still can be, attained after only six weeks.) Short-term residents stay at "dude ranches," the forerunners of today's Strip hotels.
In 1930, at the height of the Great Depression, construction of the Hoover Dam begins bringing construction workers and their families to the area. The city's population increases dramatically which, in turn, boosts the area's economy. It will take 21,000 men to complete. At it's completion in 1935, Las Vegas' population sits at approximately 8,400.
The advent of World War II brings the defense industry to the valley's isolated location and Las Vegas' economy, once again, booms. Nearby Nellis Air Force Base (the home of the Thunderbirds) grows into a key military installation built to train B-29 gunners.
It wasn't until after World War II that the extravagant resort hotels and gambling casinos associated with Las Vegas came into existence. Headliner entertainment and a country seeking a respite from gloom help to make tourism and entertainment the newest gold mine of Las Vegas.
The Moulin Rouge, opened its doors on May 24, 1955 in the segregated part of town. It was originally meant to provide a segregated hotel that would compete with whites-only hotels on The Strip. However, African-Americans were slow in visiting it. This unofficial boycott caused a subtle shifting of clientele and the Moulin Rouge became the first racially integrated hotel in Las Vegas.
In 1956, the rapidly growing city, annexes one square mile of land, its first such addition since it incorporated 45 years earlier. Also during that year, Harold Minsky, of burlesque fame, introduced topless showgirls in his "Minsky's Follies." Minsky's introduction of a Paris-style revue, complete with scantily clad women, would forever change the "face" of the city.
Betty Willis, Las Vegas resident (her father, Stephen R. Whitehead, was Clark County's first assessor) and artist, designed the landmark "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas." Erected in 1959, the sign was purchased for $4,000 by the county.
By this time, the city's population has grown to 64,405 (more than 22 percent of Nevada's total population) and its area covers approximately 25 square miles (less than 0.02 percent of Nevada's land.)
Led by Howard Hughes, corporate hotel-casino building and buying skyrockets during the decade of the 1960s. They have the necessary finances to funnel large sums of money into the industry and gambling begins its transition to the gaming industry of today. Bigger money means bigger stars and headliners, too, as symbolized by Elvis Presley's opening at the International Hotel (now the Las Vegas Hilton.)
With the legitimacy of the gaming industry, Las Vegas' economy slowly continues to grow. That economic growth, in turn, supports a city population which has by now grown to 164,674.
By the mid 1980s, Las Vegas begins booming again and annual population increases nearly 7 percent each year. This growth spurt causes the city's population to increase from 186,380 to 368,360 (almost doubling between 1985 and 1995.)
The 1990s saw the destruction of many of the old casinos and the construction of present day mega-resorts. Increased hotel and entertainment facilities require increased staff, the result being a 9.18% annual increase in jobs. In turn, the increased number of jobs have resulted in an ever-growing population and city.
The US Census estimates the 2003 population of Las Vegas was 517,017 spread over 113 square miles.
The city celebrated its 100th
birthday on May 15, 2005 commemorating the auction of the original
110 acres on May 15, 1905 . In true Las Vegas fashion, the celebration
began on December 31, 2004 and lasted throughout the entire year of 2005!
Viva Las Vegas, Baby!
Sources and Additional Off Site Reading:
Las Vegas sits at an elevation of 2178 feet (664 m) and has an average temperature of 66 degree fahrenheit.
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