Las Vegas draws its name from a scout by the name of Rafael Rivera who, in 1821, stopped for water there on his way to Los Angeles from New Mexico via the Old Spanish Trail. In prehistoric times, the area of south Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley was a vast marshland covered in vegetation. But as the rivers steadily moved underground, this vegetation slowly receded and the area took on the form we are more familiar today. In fact, the name Las Vegas means meadows in Spanish.
The city was born when a group of Mormon settlers built a fort there in 1855. But the settlement did not last and was later abandoned. It was taken over by Octavius Gass, who named the area the “Los Vegas Rancho”. In 1911 it was connected to the national railroad and in 1931, construction began on the Boulder Dam, later renamed Hoover Dam, drawing in thousands of workers. Casinos and Showgirl venues were opened, in order to attract and distract these men working on the dam.
By the 1940’s, the criminal underworld of the United States moved in, led mainly by Bugsy Siegel, and began development in Las Vegas, giving it the basis to become what it is today. With his murder in 1947, other mobsters took on the challenge and helped build the venues such as the Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier and the Riviera. With the end of WWII and the onset of the Cold War, Las Vegas got the nickname of “Up and Atom City.” This was because of the mushroom clouds visible from the hotels located on the Strip. These mushroom clouds were the results of the many nuclear weapon tests performed in the relatively close-by Nevada Test Site.
With Howard Hughes in the late 1960’s, Las Vegas began to see a boom in development, ushering in a new era and displacing mob interests for larger corporate conglomerates to come in. Here are some photos that were taken by Peter Stratmoen during 1971 and 1972 in Las Vegas.