A Look At The History And Nostalgia of Las Vegas Over The Years
Ahhh, Las Vegas. What happens there, stays there! From the dazzling marquees to the magnificent performances, endless slot machines, and a whole world more, Sin City has it all. These nostalgic and historical photos bring us back to the earliest days of Vegas.
So, sit back, relax, and indulge in the sights, sounds, and temptations of this wild and beautiful place. We’re taking you back to the golden days of the Las Vegas strip.
1935 - A Crowd Gathered Around A Roulette Wheel
In this black and white photo from 1935, we see a crowd gathering around a roulette wheel. This photo was snapped during the four-day Helldorado celebration. Helldorado was a special event in Vegas that was focused on celebrating the city’s historical roots.
Helldorado initially began as a fundraiser in 1934 and then became an annual celebration celebrating Vegas. The festival still occurs to this day – it also happens in various forms and under different names. It was quite a rowdy affair.
1936 - The Completion Of The Hoover Dam
1936 was a massively important year for Las Vegas with the completion of the Hoover Dam. It was a monumental achievement. The Dam generated cheap hydroelectricity that was instrumental in providing power to Fremont’s flashing “Glitter Gulch” signs. It also was built to provide irrigation water and to control the Colorado River’s seasonal flooding.
The Hoover Dam was singlehandedly one of the greatest American construction achievements of the 20th century. To this day, it’s still hailed as an engineering marvel.
1937 - The Beginning Of The Vegas Quickie Wedding
In the later part of the 1930s, the city became known for its “quickie weddings.” Easy and fast weddings at A Little White Wedding Chapel have been ingrained in Nevada’s history since the early 1900s. It wasn’t until 1931 that weddings became an integral part of Las Vegas’s flourishing tourism industry, which is worth $58 billion today.
In fact, the wedding industry is worth $2 billion dollars. These 10-15 minute “quickie” weddings are essential to keeping the Las Vegas economy afloat and thriving.
1938 - Las Vegas Was The “Scenic Center Of The Southwest”
This cool vintage postcard from the late 1930s esteems Las Vegas as the “Scenic Center of the Southwest.” That statement is absolutely true and continues to hold true to this very day. Las Vegas is so much more than just the glitz and glam of the Strip.
On the outskirts of the glowing and bustling city, there are miles and miles of gorgeous and expansive scenery. The 13-mile drive in Red Rock Canyon is one of those absolute gems that you can’t miss when you’re visiting Vegas.
1939 - The 91 Club Was The First Club Built On Highway 91
Located some miles from downtown, constructions along the Strip were built with the sole intention of attracting travelers heading to the city before actually arriving. The 91 Club (or, Pair-O-Dice Club as it was more famously known) was the first club ever built on Highway 91, which later became Las Vegas Boulevard.
The Pair-O-Dice Club offered gambling and liquor even though both were illegal. But, many other clubs and spots to come would offer the same, so it wouldn’t really seem out of the ordinary with time.
1940 - Beauty Pageant Contestants At The Treasure Island Casino
Here we see some female contestants lining up for a beauty pageant contest at Vegas’ Treasure Island Casino. Beauty pageant contests such as Miss Nevada began in 1949 and Miss America went even further back to 1921.
The contests were first broadcast on the radio, then on TV in both black and white and color. Because of the times, there were strict guidelines about who could compete and who couldn’t. Today, these contests still have rather rigid rules about who can and can’t participate as contestants.
1941 - People Try Their Luck At The Slot Machines
In this photograph, small crowds of people inside a cheap Vegas bar test their luck with slot machines. The history of slot machines dates all the way back to 1891 when the first ever version of the slot machine was noticed.
In the 1880s, the first modern version of the slot machine was created. It was called the Liberty Bell and it was built by Charles Fey, who is credited as being the father of the slot machine. The slot machine became increasingly popular in the 1940s. In casinos, the original intent of slot machines was to keep the wives and girlfriends occupied while the men did the “real” gambling.
1942 - Ladies Enjoying The Pool At The El Rancho Vegas Hotel And Resort
As the first “true” full-scale casino resort in Las Vegas, the El Rancho didn’t have the glitz or fame of the other early casinos. Nonetheless, it was a pioneer of the Strip. When it opened in 1941, Southern Nevada was quite a different place.
The idea of the casino resort as an integrated complex that revolved around gaming, lodging, dining, entertainment, and retail facilities wasn’t a thing yet. Gambling in Nevada was re-legalized in 1931 and mostly took place in the gambling halls of Reno and other small towns.
1943 - A Wedding Ceremony On July 6th Between An Actress And Trumpet Player
Blonde bombshell and actress, Betty Grable, is seen in this photo cutting a piece of cake with her husband, Harry James, a trumpeter and rockstar band leader, following their wedding ceremony at The Little Church of the West.
Grable and James were a power couple in the 1940s. They first met in 1940, but the sparks didn’t fly at first. They weren’t even too keen on each other, reportedly. Grable was the highest-paid star in Hollywood and one of the wealthiest women in America, even making more money than the President at one point.
1944 - Woman Posing Under The New Western Casino Marquee
The New Western Casino marquee stayed in business from 1942-1944 on Fremont Street, which today is known as “old Vegas.” It’s located north of the Vegas strip and was the city’s first paved street. According to some newspaper reports, the reason it has “new” in front of its sign didn’t necessarily have anything to do with “new” being in the title, it simply was new.
It’s positioned next to the Boulder Club which was built in 1929. The club received one of the first gambling permits in the city in 1931.
1945 - Mobster Bugsy Siegel Was Integral To The Strip’s Growth
Nicknamed “Bugsy,” Benjamin Siegel was a prominent figure in the Las Vegas scene. Contrary to popular belief, Bugsy didn’t actually invent Vegas. He did, however, influence how it developed and grew. In fact, his sensationalized death helped to put Vegas on the map.
Bugsy and his partner in crime, Moe Sedway, and, their notorious boss, Meyer Lansky, met when they were just a couple of kids in New York City. They associated with Jewish-Italian street gangs in the early 1920s and, ten years later, Siegel and Lansky ran a bootlegging outfit called the Bugs and Meyer Mob.
1946 - A Crowd Of Gamblers Gather At Golden Nugget Casino
The Golden Nugget Casino is one of the oldest casinos in Las Vegas and has gone through many transformations since its grand debut in 1946. Birthed during the heyday of the mob’s influence on Vegas, its founder, Guy McAfee, was a kingpin in Los Angeles’ illegal gambling ring. He went to Vegas after there was a crackdown on LA crime.
McAfee was a colorful guy and reinvented himself more than once. He has become a prominent figure in the lore of Las Vegas history.
1947 - Rock Hudson Poses On A Diving Board At The Flamingo Hotel
Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas on December 26, 1946. Unfortunately, its grand opening was unsuccessful. Hollywood guests wouldn’t come because of the horrible weather. The casino lost $300,000 in the first week of its opening.
Rock Hudson was one of the most prolific and talented male movie stars during the 1950s and 1960s. His career spanned more than three decades and he was also one of the first known celebrities to pass away from AIDS-related complications.
1948 - Tony Martin And His Wife, Cyd Charisse, Lounge Poolside At Flamingo Hotel
Here’s another photo taking place at the Flamingo Hotel, and this one is of famous crooner Tony Martin who was known for his romantic 1950s ballads, and his 60-year marriage to dancer Cyd Charisse. She was his second wife.
The Flamingo Hotel remains like all the Strip casinos that came before it. Impressively, it’s also the only one built before 1950 that is still around. The hotel was part of the early shift toward corporate gaming and grew to adapt to the era of integrated megaresorts.
1949 - People Outside Enjoying The Flamingo Hotel
Also considered the “playground of the elite,” the Flamingo still endures 76 years later. It’s a living example of Las Vegas’ incredibly rich and controversial history, and it was also a time that Vegas tried to leave behind, but has been leaning into.
The Flamingo continues to be essential to the Strip’s evolution; every step forward continues to be beneficial. From the Old West to ultra-luxury and mobsters to corporate executives, the hotel still stands amidst all the change.
1950 - The Legacy Of A Little White Chapel
To this day, A Little White Chapel remains the best and most popular spot for quick weddings, and that tradition still holds up to this very day. The Chapel is open for 24 hours, it has a drive-thru window and an auto aisle called the Tunnel of Love. It was established in 1951.
A slew of famous celebrities and renowned figures got married there. Judy Garland, Demi Moore, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jordan are only a few of the stars that tied the knot at this magical place.
1951 - A Parade Going Down A Busy Street During Helldorado Days
Helldorado Days is a two-day celebration where the city participates in a festive parade, rodeo, and carnival. The celebration happens every year in mid-May and is held by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Although it has skipped some years, the event still remains an important tradition. In its early days, it was only a parade, but as the years went on, the rodeo, carnival, and other entertainment became included. Its sole purpose, which is to celebrate Las Vegas’ heritage, has remained.
1952 - The Desert Inn Hotel And Casino
On April 24, 1950, the Desert Inn opened its doors to the public and became the Strip’s fifth major resort. The hotel’s completion did take a few years due to money issues, but the final product was a luxurious place and boasted 300 hotel rooms.
The resort also provided stunning views of the rest of the Strip. Guests could simply enjoy their drinks or put their moves to the test at the Sky Room Cocktail Lounge’s dancefloor. At the time, the casino was one of the largest in the state at 2,400 square feet.
1953 - Atomic Bomb Testing Seen From Downtown
The Nevada Testing Site was positioned 65 miles north of Las Vegas and was one of the most prominent nuclear weapon testing sites in all of the United States. Nuclear testing, as seen lighting up the sky in the background, occurred at that site between 1951 and 1992.
Over time, there have been many debates over how much radiation exposure and nuclear fallout were caused by the tests that the NTS conducted during those few decades. Some critics believed that the government was always privy to the potential health risks and dangers of radiation.
1954 - Marilyn Maxwell Performs With Her Tiger On Stage At A Nightclub
An American actress and entertainer, Marilyn Maxwell had a career that spanned the 1940s and 1950s. In this photo, she is seen wrangling her tiger (named “Tiger Lil”) before making her entrance at a Vegas nightclub.
On August 23, 1954, Maxwell led a 250-pound tiger to the stage. Beforehand, he had been fed 16 pounds of horsemeat to suppress any other eating tendencies during the performance. He would lie down, refusing to perform, which prompted all of the stagehands to make sure he did his act.
1955 - A Group Of People Gather Around A Makeshift Casino At A Hotel’s Pool
The folks in this photo enjoy some poolside gambling. Among all of the well-known hotels in the annals of Las Vegas, the Dunes and the Sands were only two of the hotels that were most popular back in the 1950s.
The Dunes used to be where the Bellagio currently stands. Initially, it opened as a low-rise hotel and then added a tower six years following. And, then it added another in 1979. The most memorable and iconic visual of Dunes is the 35-foot-tall sultan. The Sands is one of the most famous hotels in Vegas’ history; it’s where the Rat Pack performed. Sadly, it couldn’t compete with the increasing demand for megaresorts and closed to make room for the Venetian and Palazzo.
1956 - Showgirls Backstage In Their Dressing Room Before A Show
Nowadays, most of us probably couldn’t think of Vegas without showgirls coming to mind. Showgirls are defined as women who typically wear costumes that are elaborately decorated and perform in a musical or theatrical production.
The showgirls of the 1950s were required to gamble, drink, and “accompany” the VIPs after the shows in the casinos. Showgirls were a protected and shiny enigma to audience-goers. They are put up on a pedestal, relishing in the adoration they receive from afar.
1957 - A Stewardess Hugs A Man At The Vegas Airport
The story behind this photo is quite incredible. This stewardess hugs a man after a United Airlines plane that was en route from New York to Honolulu crash landed at the Las Vegas Airport.
1958 saw one of the worst air disasters in the history of Las Vegas. On April 21, a fighter jet from Nellis Air Force base and a United Airlines Flight from Los Angeles collided 21,000 feet above the southwest valley. The crash was instrumental in changing the way airspace was shared nationwide between commercial and military flights.
1958 - Eddie Fisher Sings Into A Microphone As He Records His Album In A Vegas Studio
Eddie Fisher, an American singer, and actor, was one of the most popular artists of the 1950s. He sold millions of records and even hosted his own TV show called The Eddie Fisher Show. Also, he was best known for his glamorous wives.
Fisher made headlines when left his wife, Debbie Reynolds, for fashion icon and renowned celebrity Elizabeth Taylor. He was her fourth husband and became involved in one of the greatest Hollywood love scandals of the time.
1959 - The Huge Marquee At Biff’s Las Vegas And The Mint
Biff’s was a California-based restaurant chain named after the son of restaurateur W.W. “Tiny” Naylor, who ran a restaurant at The Mint. His son, W.W. “Biff” Naylor, now owns the Du-Pars chain.
The Mint was a majestic architectural wonder and a mid-century modern building that sat right on Fremont Street amid the Golden Nugget and Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club. It was adorned with neon and pink and is where Hollywood set designers to go if they need to reference that era and the Las Vegas style of the late 1950s.
1960 - A Woman Throws Dice As Onlookers Watch
The game that this woman in the photo is playing at a Las Vegas casino is commonly referred to as “craps.” Craps is a dice game where players bet on the outcomes of a dice roll. Players can wager money against each other or against a bank.
Craps became extremely popular after WWII. The street version of craps is what servicemen commonly played, using a blanket as a shooting surface. Thus, this became the dominant casino game in postwar Las Vegas.
1961 - Frank Sinatra On Stage During Dean Martin’s Birthday
In this photo, the world’s best-selling music artist and pop culture icon, Frank Sinatra, interrupts Joey Bishop on stage during Dean Martin’s birthday celebration. Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor are seen watching from the audience.
Sinatra isn’t credited with putting Vegas on the map, but he definitely helped keep its fame and notoriety. Performing at such significant venues as the Sands, the Sahara, the Riviera, Caesars Palace, and the Golden Nugget, Vegas became known as a sophisticated and classy adult playground.
1962 - A Row Of Slot Machines Line A Bus Station Wall
Slot machines at bus stations? That’s not a common thing to hear about or see. Slot machines come in all shapes, colors, and sizes in Las Vegas. In fact, they are everywhere. However, downtown Las Vegas seems to have the best kinds.
The SlotZilla Zip Line is the coolest slot machine and it’s also the world’s largest, towering at 128 feet. Early vintage slots, such as those at Main Street Casino, used to churn out golf balls, gum, candy, or cigars.
1963 - Tony Curtis And Christine Kaufmann Get Married At The Hotel Riviera
Tony Curtis, an American actor who had an expansive career marking six decades, is pictured here when he was 35 years old. His new bride, Christine Kaufmann, a German-Austrian actress, was only 18 years old when she married Curtis at the Hotel Riviera. Apparently, only five people saw this wedding happen.
The Riviera was a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip and it operated from May 1955 to May 2015. It was the first high-rise hotel and casino to land on the Strip.
1964 - People Walking on the Popular Fremont Street
Now let’s turn attention to one street that housed many of the famous casinos. Fremont Street. This street is named after the popular politician and explorer, John C. Frémont. If you want to capture the essence of Las Vegas, you have to visit Fremont Street.
This street accommodated notable casinos such as Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, Binion’s Horseshoe, Golden Nugget, Pioneer Club, Four Queens, and of course, Fremont Hotel and Casino. This picture captured passersby taking a walk on the street.
1965 - Vehicles Parked at Thunderbird Hotel With Two Large Bird Statues in Sight
Sitting pretty at Las Vegas Boulevard, and about 23 minutes walk from Fremont, is the Thunderbird Hotel. Its 3 floors and 100 rooms of hospitality with a giant bird towering above the building. The vehicles parked around give us proof that it’s 1965. But there’s something more interesting about the photo.
Take a closer look and you will catch the Pegasus in the distance. This iconic statue, which is a common sight in Dallas Texas, somehow found its way to Las Vegas.
1966 - 14-Year-Old Sahara Hotels and Casino
Sahara Hotels and Casino is one of the well-known recreation spots in Las Vegas. The company began its operations in 1952 and this picture shows us how it looked fourteen years later.
The hotel and casino were big enough to host appearances of entertainment bigwigs such as Frank Sinatra, Deen Martins, and Elvis Presley. It’s been over seventy years now and the hotel has remained standing, a rare feat for Las Vegas casinos.
1967 - Overview of Las Vegas Showing the Newly Opened Caesars Palace
This daytime overview of this busy Las Vegas street will give you a solid idea of the high-volume activity it enjoyed. This is a busy street by 1967 standards. It gets better in the nighttime when the casinos come alive.
Prominent in this photo is the large sign of the Rome-themed Caesars Palace, one of the biggest names in Las Vegas Casino chronicles. The casino and hotel stood the test of time and are still very much active to date.
1968 - Thanksgiving at Thunderbirds
Imagine what a Thanksgiving at one of the luxury Las Vegas casinos and hotels would look like in 1968. The rooms and game halls would be packed full in the evenings. Also, a Thanksgiving turkey will probably taste different when eaten in a casino.
This picture gives a glimpse of Thanksgiving at a Las Vegas Casino in 1968. Here, a chef poses with two Thanksgiving turkeys at Thunderbird Hotel and Casino. He is flanked on either side by two showgirls eager to give visitors the casino Thanksgiving experience.