Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History



First Committee Member

David Wrobel, Chair

Second Committee Member

Eugene Moehring

Third Committee Member

David Tanenhaus

Fourth Committee Member

Andrew Kirk

Graduate Faculty Representative

Robert Futrell

Number of Pages



In April 2009, the Pulitzer committee awarded its public service prize to the Las Vegas Sun for its coverage of the high fatalities on Las Vegas Strip construction sites. The newspaper attributed failures in safety policy to "the exponential growth in the Las Vegas market." In fact, since Las Vegas' founding in 1905, rapid development in the region has always strained occupational health standards. From transporting hazardous railroad cargoes to building Hoover Dam, chemical processing at Basic Magnesium, nuclear testing, and dense megaresort construction on the Strip, workers, residents, and tourists alike have been exposed to the threat of living in close proximity to large-scale industries. In the process, workplace injuries and fatalities became an accepted risk. The safety lapses produced several cataclysmic disasters- carbon monoxide poisoning at Hoover Dam, atmospheric nuclear testing and the Baneberry disaster at the Nevada Test Site, the MGM Grand and Hilton fires, and the Pacific Engineering Production Company of Nevada (PEPCON) explosion. After each disaster, public outcry prompted federal, state, and municipal governments to implement rigorous changes. But in the probusiness state of Nevada, laissez-faire always prevailed. Adherence to occupational health has therefore been historically boom and bust in southern Nevada.

This study examines the region's most hazardous industries, emphasizing how the medical community interpreted and responded to the risks they posed. While existing scholarship discusses the region's political, economic, and cultural history, none examines the intersections of medical and labor history. It advances the scholarship by providing the first comprehensive history of occupational health at southern Nevada's public works, defense, and resort industries. Since no other place contains this mixture of industrial and postindustrial sites, the region offers unique opportunities to evaluate the development of health care and safety in the twentieth century American workplace. By providing a deeper understanding of the history of occupational health crises and responses, the study informs efforts to address present and future crises in the region.


Industrial hygiene; Industrial safety; Labor – History; Nevada – Las Vegas


Labor Relations | Law | Legal History | Occupational Health and Industrial Hygiene | Social History | United States History

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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