Las Vegas, often referred to as simply, "Vegas," is the most populous city in the state of Nevada. The city is an internationally known vacation, shopping, entertainment, and gambling destination. It was established in 1905 and officially became a city in 1911. With the growth that followed, Vegas became the largest U.S. city founded in the 20th century, a distinction Chicago held for the 19th century.
The city is best known as the center of gambling in the United States and the Entertainment Capital of the World and is famous for its massive, lavish casino resorts. It is also commonly known as Sin City, due to the popularity of legalized gambling, availability of alcoholic beverages around the clock, and various forms and degrees of adult entertainment. The odds and consequences in the city's economic mainstay are emblematic of its occupants' lives, with Las Vegas having one of the highest suicide and divorce rates in the country. The city, with its glamorous image, has often made it the setting for films, novels, and television programs.
Las Vegas in English means "The Meadows" or "The Grasslands" and was named by Spaniards in the Antonio Armijo party, who used the water in the area while heading north and west along the Old Spanish Trail from Texas. In the 1800s, areas of the Las Vegas Valley contained artesian wells that supported extensive green areas or meadows. In 1855, following annexation by the United States, Brigham Young assigned 30 Mormon missionaries led by William Bringhurst to the area to convert the Paiute Indian population, with varying degrees of success.
A fort was built near the current downtown area, serving as protection and a stopover for travelers along the "Mormon Corridor" between Salt Lake and the briefly thriving Mormon colony at San Bernardino, California. Las Vegas was established as a railroad town on May 15, 1905, when 110 acres owned by Montana Senator William A. Clark's San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, was auctioned off in what is now downtown Las Vegas. The city became officially incorporated on March 16, 1911.
With the growth of the railroads, Las Vegas became less important, but the completion of the nearby Hoover Dam resulted in substantial growth in tourism, which, along with the legalization of gambling, led to the advent of the casino-hotels for which Las Vegas is famous. The constant stream of tourist dollars from the hotels and casinos was augmented by a new source of federal money. This money came from the establishment of what is now Nellis Air Force Base. The influx of military personnel and casino job hunters helped start a land building boom which still continues today.
A concerted effort has been made by city officials to diversify the Las Vegas economy from tourism by attracting light manufacturing, banking, and other commercial interests. With the lack of any state, individual or corporate income taxes, and very simple incorporation requirements, this effort has proven moderately successful. Having been late to develop an urban core of any substantial size, Las Vegas had retained very affordable real estate prices in comparison to nearby urban centers, however, as a New York Times series on the city reported in 2004, the median price of housing in the Las Vegas Valley is now at or above the nationwide median. The urban area has grown outward so quickly that it is beginning to run into Bureau of Land Management holdings along its edges, increasing land values enough that medium- and high-density development is beginning to occur closer to the core.