Las Vegas History Timeline from A.D. 700 to Today (and Beyond)

Aerial View of Las Vegas at Sunset

History is our thing at Golden Gate, and we’ve seen a lot happen since we opened 1906. From the glitz and glam of shiny new casinos to the scandal of Vegas mobsters, there is no secret that the city has had a pretty eventful past that has helped build the Vegas we know and love today. Explore the exciting and diverse history of Las Vegas, along with what the city is looking forward to in the future.


The History of Las Vegas


A.D. 700

Members of the Paiute tribe reside in southern Nevada.



Rafael Rivera is the first person of European ancestry to enter the Las Vegas valley. He arrives to scout the area as part of Antonio Armijo’s expedition to open up a trade route, the Old Spanish Trail, between New Mexico and California. Rivera names the valley Las Vegas, “the meadows,” after its spring-watered grasses.



Rule in the area shifts from Mexican to United States rule.



Brigham Young sends a group of Mormon settlers to the area. Their settlement is unsuccessful, but their abandoned fort is taken over by Octavius Gass, who names the area the “Los Vegas Rancho” (the altered spelling was to avoid confusion with Las Vegas, New Mexico).



The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake railroad arrive in Las Vegas, connecting the city with the Pacific and the country’s main rail networks. The future downtown is platted and auctioned by railroad company backers.


Exterior of the First Hotel in Las Vegas, Hotel Nevada



The first hotel in Las Vegas opens at One Fremont Street. The hotel is named Hotel Nevada, now Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, and offers “first class” amenities with its electric lighting, ventilation, and steam heat radiators.



Nevada outlaws gambling, but the practice continues in speakeasies and illicit casinos and organized crime begins to take roots in the city.



Las Vegas becomes incorporated.



Gambling is legalized again. In addition, construction begins on the massive Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam), and draws thousands of workers to a site just east of the city. Casinos and showgirl venues open up on Fremont Street, the town’s sole paved road, to attract the project’s workers. 



Hoover Dam is completed, offering cheap hydroelectricity that powers the flashing signs of Fremont’s Glitter Gulch.



The El Rancho Vegas resort opens on a section of U.S. 91 just outside the city’s jurisdiction. Other hotel-casinos soon follow, and the section of highway becomes known as “the Strip.” Most are built around the regional or Old West themes that were popular on Fremont Street.



The Strip’s first wedding chapel, the Little Church of the West, opens.



Mobster Bugsy Siegel, backed by East Coast Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky’s Mexican drug money, opens the Flamingo, a swank resort that took its cues from Hollywood. Top-drawer talent is booked for its lounges and dozens of celebrities attend its Christmas Day opening.


Mugshot of Famous Las Vegas Mobster Bugsy Siegel



Siegel is murdered, but his vision for Las Vegas lives on: During the 1950s and 1960s, Las Vegas mobsters help build the Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier, and the Riviera. Money from organized crime combines with funds from more respectable investors such as Wall Street banks, union pension funds, the Mormon Church and the Princeton University endowment. Tourists flock to the resorts – 8 million a year by 1954 – drawn by performers such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley, and by rows of slot machines and gaming tables.


1940s Onward

Las Vegas enjoys a military boom as World War II bases give way to Cold War facilities, such as the Nevada Test Site, where over 100 nuclear bombs are detonated above ground between 1951 and 1963. Mushroom clouds are often visible from the hotels on the Strip, and postcards proclaim Las Vegas the “Up and Atom City.”



Howard Hughes checks into the penthouse of the Desert Inn and never leaves, preferring to buy the hotel rather than face eviction. He goes on to buy other hotels as well, $300 million worth, ushering in an era in which mob interests are replaced by corporate conglomerates.



Longtime casino developer Steve Wynn opens the Mirage, the city’s first mega-resort. Over the next two decades, The Strip is transformed yet again: Old casinos are dynamited to make room for massive complexes taking their aesthetic cues from ancient Rome and Egypt, Paris, Venice, New York, and other glamorous escapes.



Casinos and entertainment remain Las Vegas’ major employer, and the city grows with the size of the resorts and the numbers of annual visitors, with nearly 40 million people making Las Vegas their destination.



As the world has faced an unprecedented year, Las Vegas still aims to bring joy and entertain. Slated to debut in October and December of 2020, Circa Las Vegas Resort & Casino is dedicated to constructing the most unique and memorable Vegas experience you could imagine – and it honors all the glamorous history of Las Vegas. This resort will be 21+ and will help Downtown Las Vegas continue to grow.


Rendering of Circa Las Vegas Resort & Casino


The Future of Las Vegas


As the city continues to grow, the future of Las Vegas seems bright. New venues like the MSG Sphere promise new ways to enjoy entertainment, conventions and conferences will be treated by developments on the Caesars FORUM Conference Center, Expo at World Market Center, and the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion, and sports bettors will be in awe of the largest sportsbook in Vegas at Circa | Sports. From high-end resorts to the new state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium, there is a lot to look forward to in 2021 and beyond.

What used to be a small spot in the desert is now a sprawling city that continues to grow. World-class entertainment, professional sports, award-winning chefs, and unbeatable experiences have evolved Las Vegas into the premier destination for everybody.If you are staying in Vegas, be a part of history (and make your own) at Golden Gate Hotel and Casino – you can even stay in one of the original rooms from the hotel’s opening in 1906! Book a room today for your very own taste of Las Vegas history, and stick around to enjoy the promises of the future.