In 1829, Travelers were traversing part of the Old Spanish Trail on their way from what is now New Mexico to Southern California in an attempt to establish the 'Santa Fe Trail' and became the first Europeans to visit the valley. Rafael Riviera, a scout for Antonio Armijo, is credited as being the first European visitor and also as the person who originated the name "Las Vegas", which means "the Meadows" in Spanish. They had discovered the valley to be a prime stopover location along the way, with its abundant wild grasses and plentiful water supply, they reduced a travelers journey between Southern California and New Mexico by serveral days.
1844, John C. Fremont Arrives. John C. Fremont, who led a westward overland expedition and camped at Las Vegas Springs, later becomes the namesake for the Fremont Steet in Downtown Las Vegas and the new re-invention of that area into the "Fremont Street Experience" cooperative.
In 1855, Mormons arrive in Las Vegas and establish a fort. The first Post Office is established and the town is originally named 'Bringhurst' after the Mormon mission's President William Bringhurst.
In 1857, the Mormons abandon the fort, though its remnants remain as a tourist and historic site to this day.
In 1864, Nevada is admitted to the Union by President Lincoln.
In 1865, Octavius Decatur Gass takes over old Mormon Fort and Establishes Las Vegas Rancho.
In 1880, Archibald and Helen Stewart acquire Las Vegas Rancho from Octavius Decatur Gass for $5,000.
In 1882, Helen Stewart gives birth to Evaline La Vega Stewart, named after Las Vegas.
In 1884, Archibald Stewart was murdered at Kiel Ranch - First Las Vegas Murder - still unresolved.
In 1903, Helen J. Stewart sold the Las Vegas Rancho to Montana Senator William A. Clark for $55,000.
In 1904, a construction camp for workers building a railroad from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City was established in the Las Vegas Valley.
In 1905, The town of Las Vegas was established with the opening of the Salt Lake, San Pedro & Los Angeles Railroad. The city's official history began on May 15, 1905, when 110 acres of land adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks was sold at auction: that area would become the downtown area of Las Vegas.
In 1911, Las Vegas became incorporated as a city with a population of 3000.
In 1931, Nevada both legalized casino gambling and liberalized the state divorce law by reducing residency requirements to six weeks.
In that same year, construction was started on the Boulder Canyon project, now known as Hoover Dam. Along with bringing construction workers and their families to the area, a growing tourism industry was created as visitors came to witness the building of this engineering marvel. This helped the area avoid the economic devastation of the great depression.
These changes greatly impacted downtown's Fremont Street (named after John C. Fremont, who led a westward overland expedition and camped at Las Vegas Springs in 1844). Fremont Street evolved from a dusty whistle stop into a haven for fun-seekers.
In 1941, a gunnery school for the Army Air Corps was established. It is now known as Nellis Air Force Base and is the home of the Air Force acrobatic team, the Thunderbirds. In 1951, the Nevada Proving Grounds, located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, began atomic testing in the middle of what was then the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range, an Air Force training and practice site.
In 1959, the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign was created by resident Betty Willis.
It was during the middle of the 20th century that Las Vegas continued its triumphant march toward becoming the gambling capital of the world. During this time, the use of neon emerged, transforming Fremont Street into "Glitter Gulch." Its isolated location and natural assets made Las Vegas particularly attractive to the defense industry during World War II.
Gaining fame in Las Vegas during the post-war era were notorious characters such as "Bugsy" Siegel, who, along with others, purchased a downtown Las Vegas hotel called the El Cortez. He later went on to open the Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Both hotels are still in existence.
In the 1960s, Las Vegas temporarily became home to eccentric recluse multimillionaire and aircraft mogul Howard Hughes, who helped introduce the business world to the riches gained from investing in Las Vegas. It was corporate America's involvement in the gaming industry along with the increased oversight and enforcement of taxation of the industry's gaming revenues by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that eventually muscled out the mobsters. A visit to the Las Vegas Museum of Law Enforcement and Organized Crime (The Mob Museum) will provide you with hours of fun-filled educational and historical data.
In the late 1980s, entrepreneur Steve Wynn changed the face of the Las Vegas gambling industry by ushering in the era of the mega casino resort. These immense, one-stop hotel and casino complexes, designed to encourage patrons to stay onsite, changed the dynamics of the valley's industry.
In 1995, the face of downtown Las Vegas changed forever when the $70 million Fremont Street Experience opened on December 13th. Over 12.5 million LEDs and 550,000 watts of sound are part of this entertainment extravaganza situated amid a five-block, pedestrian-friendly mall of casinos, shops and entertainment venues.