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Founding the city of lights

In Las Vegas, it’s all about water, making it the perfect location for the show.


Las Vegas, which means “the meadows,” got its name when European explorer Rafael Rivera scouted the area in 1821 to open up the Old Spanish Trail trade route, according to In 1900 the town’s population consisted of just 22 people, but its growth was boosted after the arrival of the railroad in 1905, and the town was incorporated in 1911.

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Surprisingly, gambling in the state of Nevada was outlawed in 1910. Organized crime moved into the state during this time before gambling was legalized in 1931. The ensuing large corporate presence in the city helped stifle mob activity.

Divorces were easier to get in Nevada than in other places, so many short-term residents moved into the area. These residents stayed and worked at dude ranches for the required six weeks to end their marriages.

Water is what it’s all about

Las Vegas and the surrounding area have a long history with water. Native Americans, settlers, traders, ranchers and others stopped at the locale’s natural springs to replenish water supplies.


The Hoover Dam construction brought thousands of workers to the town. After its completion in 1936, the establishment of hydroelectric power allowed for the famous glittering signs of the Strip.    

Population growth led to a water crisis in the mid-1940s, and officials became concerned about dwindling supplies. The Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) was created in 1947, allowing use of the Colorado River. The LVVWD now has a reservoir system than can store 800 million gallons of water.

Into the modern age

By 1950, 24,624 people called the city home. Hotels and casinos opened all along Fremont Street. The famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign was created during the same decade.


Hotels including the Bellagio, The Venetian, Treasure Island, Excalibur and others opened in the 1990s, and the population grew to more than 478,434 by 2000. Today more than 600,000 residents have made a home in the city. The sparkling lights and excitement of the city reflect the bright future ahead for the industry.


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