Cities and towns — Growth; Cold War; Gambling industry; History; Military towns; Nevada – Las Vegas


American Studies | History | Military History | United States History


Modern Las Vegas has come to inhabit a unique place in the American imagination. A neon mirage glittering amid the desolate Mojave Desert, “Sin City” is both celebrated and scorned as an oasis of gambling, nightlife, and entertainment. Consistently ranked among the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas, Las Vegas has experienced sensational economic, infrastructural, and demographic growth in recent years. The dizzying pace of this development makes it difficult to imagine that the city was once anything other than the bustling urban playground it is today. Like many great western cities, Las Vegas came of age during the World War Two era. A mere hamlet of 8,422 residents in 1940, it had nearly tripled in size by 1950. Many believe Las Vegas to be synonymous with its gambling economy, but war, not wagering, triggered the city’s first period of dramatic growth. A sizeable military presence, established during World War Two and sustained by the Cold War, took root in southern Nevada. Though never as visible as the area’s high-profile gambling industry, this military economy was a vital factor in the development of the nascent metropolis.