The US government were determined to harness the power of the mighty Colorado River to provide flood control, electricity and irrigation to its growing population.
The Bureau of Reclamation began to consider the damming of the river in around 1907, 17 years later the plans were drawn up and Congress raised the $160 million needed to build it. By the time construction began in 1931, the town of Las Vegas had started to take shape. There was now a long distance telephone service, a federal highway linking Salt Lake City and Los Angeles (via Vegas) and regular passenger air services in and out of what was now being called the city of Las Vegas rather than a town. The population had swelled to over 5,000, with thousands and thousands more passing through on the railroads and highways.
Over 5,000,000 barrels of concrete were used in the building of the Hoover Dam over a two-year period and cables had to be strung 200 miles through the desert to the nearest power plant to supply the electricity needed to build it. Over 21,000 men worked on building the Dam. When it was finally completed in 1935, some 28 years after the initial plans were made, the Hoover Dam stood at 656 feet wide at its base, 49 feet thick at the top and 794 feet high and weighed 6,600,000 tons. It then took three years to flood the valley behind the dam and create Lake Mead, which is 109 miles long and up to 545 feet deep. The dam provided the much needed power and water to allow Las Vegas to fulfil its promise as the gambling centre of the world.
The most crucial event in Las Vegas history occurred in 1931, the statewide legalisation of casino gambling. Along with the legalisation of gambling came easy divorces, quickie marriages, legal prostitution and championship boxing. The transformation of Las Vegas from a railroad town into the world’s biggest casino town had begun. Casino operators came in droves to Las Vegas, now the only state in the US where they could trade without danger of being arrested. The bars and casino’s moved from the red light district to the respectable Fremont main street.
News spread quickly across the country that this little town by the big dam was a slice of authentic Wild West. A playground with legal gambling, prostitution and just about everything else! Three new casinos were built at the start of the 1940’s to try and keep up with demand; the El Cortez, The Last Frontier and El Rancho were all built on Los Angeles Highway, the road that would later come to be known as the Strip.