Las Vegas has a rich and sometimes unbelievable history. Beginning as a “railroad town” for refueling between Los Angeles and Salt Lake, Las Vegas has achieved a number of milestones in its growth.
Here are the top 10 Vegas “firsts” that shaped the city into what it is today:
Top 10 Vegas Firsts That Made History
The First Hotel
The state of Nevada was added to the union in 1864. Shortly after, in 1906, Las Vegas opened its first hotel: the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino. Labeled a “first-class” hotel, room and board were only $1 per day.
Located on Fremont Street, some of the hotel’s original rooms are still in use today.
The First Newspaper
Vegas’s first newspaper was published on March 25, 1905, and called the Las Vegas Times. The paper was only in circulation until 1906 when the Las Vegas Age became the premier newspaper in the city. Most issues of both newspapers can be viewed digitally on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s library website.
The First Casino
El Rancho Vegas was the first casino built on the Vegas Strip in 1941. Unlike modern casinos, the El Rancho was a resort with gambling rooms inside.
El Rancho also featured one of the first buffet restaurants in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the original El Rancho is no longer standing as a fire destroyed the casino hotel’s main building in 1960.
The First Show Headliner / Residency
Before Celine Dion and Britney Spears established their names on the Strip, another artist created the concept of the concert residency in Vegas. Liberace, the renowned pianist, paved the way for countless performers, from the King of Rock to Katy Perry.
Liberace started performing on the Strip in 1944 and played many shows at the Riviera Hotel in the 1950s. He typically earned more than $50,000 per week during his residency. The Liberace Mansion in Vegas can still be toured and booked for events.
The First Nuclear Test
January 27, 1951, signified the date of Las Vegas’s first-ever nuclear test. They conducted the test on Frenchman Flat, a dry lakebed north of Las Vegas, at the Nevada Test Site.
“Able,” the name of the nuclear device tested in 1951, was the first air-dropped atomic detonation in the United States. Nevada holds the title as the state with the most tests conducted on American soil, with over 900 tests done over 12 years from the 1950s to the 1960s.
While the Nevada Test Site is still active, Nevada no longer does above-ground tests to avoid causing damage because of radioactivity.
The First Elvis Show
Elvis Presley first performed in Vegas in April of 1956. The King of Rock was the closing act for Freddy Martin and His Orchestra at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino for two weeks of shows.
Despite his growing popularity, Vegas audiences were initially unimpressed with the young star. However, Las Vegas still enchanted Elvis, and he returned as soon as possible.
Elvis would go on to perform 57 shows in Las Vegas during his 1969 residency at the International Hotel – now known as Westgate – for sold-out audiences and numerous celebrity guests. He performed over 600 shows in Vegas during his career.
Despite his initially chilly reception as a young performer, Elvis loved the city. He filmed one of his most famous movies, Viva Las Vegas, in 1964 and married his wife, Priscilla, at the Aladdin Hotel in Vegas in 1967. Vegas’s first Elvis-themed wedding ceremony occurred at Graceland Wedding Chapel in 1977.
The First Rat Pack Movie
The Rat Pack – composed of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, among others – dominated Las Vegas entertainment in the 1950s. It was common for one member of the informal group to be slated to perform only to be joined by several other Rat Pack members on stage.
The Rat Pack’s first movie, Some Come Running, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley Maclaine, was released in 1958. However, the first movie starring all five of the classic Rat Pack members was Ocean’s 11 – a movie following a group trying to rob Las Vegas casinos. They shot much of the film on location in Las Vegas.
The “Welcome to Las Vegas” Sign First Open to the Public
The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign first opened to the public in 1959. At the time, it greeted visitors on the only highway leading into Vegas. Standing 25 feet tall, it has become one of the most photographed spots in the city.
Before 2008, there was no parking on-site for visitors to this world-famous sign. After ownership was transferred, a parking lot with over 40 spaces was created, making it safer and easier to visit this iconic landmark.
The First Non-College Sports Team
Considering Las Vegas is one of the hottest places on Earth, you might be surprised to learn that the city’s first non-college sports group was an ice hockey team.
The Las Vegas Gamblers began their journey in 1968 and played for three seasons as part of the California-Nevada Hockey League. They ended their run in 1971 with their final game at the International Ice Palace in Vegas.
The First Professional Sports Team
Vegas’s first major league sports team was another ice hockey group. The Vegas Golden Knights played their inaugural game on the Strip in 2017.
The Knights are the first major sporting franchise to represent the city. They experienced immediate success as a team, making it to the Stanley Cup finals during their first year and qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs the following three seasons.