Las Vegas with its annual vintage party Viva Las Vegas (you can read all about it on of course) retro wedding chapels and old-school casinos continues to fascinate and attract a vintage-loving crowd. But how did this desert city gain international fame and attract the likes of Elvis and Sinatra in its heyday? And what’s in stall for its future in the age of online gambling and climate change?

For thousands of years Native Americans lived in the Las Vegas valley relatively undisturbed until the 1820s when a group of Mexican trade merchants looking for a route to LA passed through the area, then still part of Mexico. They called it Las Vegas (Spanish for ‘The Meadows’). Surveyed by US Topographical Corps and briefly settled by a group of Mormons, the area remained largely untouched.

It wasn’t until 1865 when a man named Octavius Gass set up a ranch called the Las Vegas Ranch. In 1881 it passed to Archibald Stewart. Eventually in 1903 the ranch was sold to a railroad company building a railroad through the area in 1905. At the time, the area was largely settled by farmers.

The city of Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911, a small settlement with a population of about 1,000. Shortly after the city’s incorporation, the State of Nevada reluctantly became the last western state to outlaw gaming.

In 1931 work began on building the Hoover Dam. Las Vegas’ population swelled from around 5,000 citizens to 25,000, with most of the newcomers looking for a job building the dam – and having a good time when they had time off. Thanks to its savvy business community and Mafia crime lords, Vegas soon boasted its casinos and showgirl theaters to entertain the largely male dam construction workers.

In 1931, realising that it would be hugely profitable, the state of Nevada legalized gambling and casinos were founded. In 1941 El Rancho Vegas opened as the first resort on The Strip. After the Second World War Las Vegas thrived on gambling, legendary casinos such as The Flamingo, The Fremont, and The Dolphin opened.

Owned and operated by both Mormon elders who provided political and business legitimacy and the mafia, these hotel-casinos soon not only attracted gamblers and tourist but the 1950s biggest stars: Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Bing Crosby, Liberace.

Shockingly, Las Vegas’ surrounding area was also the site of regular nuclear tests. Las Vegas advertised the explosions as another tourist attraction – has a great article on this – and offered Atomic Cocktails in Sky Rooms that offered a great view of the mushroom clouds.

In 1966 the reclusive and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes moved to Las Vegas soon buying properties and taking over businesses. One of the most powerful men in Vegas, he lent the city respectability and legitimacy.

By the 1980s Vegas was a changed city: gone was the Mafia era, the city was now driven by property developers such as Steve Wynn ushering the city’s status as home to world’s super resorts such as the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Venetian, Paris or The Cosmopolitan.

Having gradually weathered the financial crisis of the 2000s, Las Vegas’ property boom doesn’t appear to be over yet. However two new challenges face the city: climate change and online gambling sites such as

The city heavily depends on the Colorado River system for its water supply, which has been plagued with drought for over 15 years.

The city’s other challenge comes from the rising popularity of online gambling. With online casinos accessible on your phone, online gambling sites are bringing the city’s famous gambling experience to where ever you are, even replicating Vegas’s famous slot machines online as seen on for example.

So what’s next for the city? Having successfully faced every storm so far and with new generations discovering its retro appeal all the time, the desert giant is facing a positive future.

Images: RF Wikimedia Commons