History of Nevada/Introduction

Nevada, also known as the "Sagebrush state", is located in the Southwestern region of the United States of America between the Sierras and the Wasatch mountains. Nevada's border expanded greatly between 1864 and 1867, leading to its present-day size by 1867. Nevada neighbours five other states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. It officially became the thirty-sixth state on October 31st, 1864 as the Constitution was telegrammed to Congress in Washington. Nevada is considered one of the smaller states with only 280,000 permanent residents. The statehood of Nevada was pushed in order to ensure electoral votes for the re-election of the Civil War President, Abraham Lincoln. People of Nevada desired entry into the Union for an expanded period of time. Three months before congress passed their Enabling Act, they voted four to one in favour of statehood. Although Nevada was merely one state amongst a plethora of powerful and dominant states, it is difficult to ignore the ever-lasting impression that the state has had on America.

Nevada Locator Map with the United States

Prior to World War II, Nevada's economy was characterized by boom and bust periods. Bust periods saw a depressed economy and attempts were made to broaden the state’s economic base. Despite economic uncertainty, the desire for Americans to move out west allowed Nevada to develop into the state that it is today. Nevada's unique growth as a state economically, politically and socially is described in this text.

The early economy relied on mining and extraction, as outlined during the mining boom of Goldfield in the early 1900s. The city was the primary mining capital of Nevada and experienced a gold strike in 1902. This strike opened southern and central developments which attracted investment. In April 1904, Goldfield was known as one of the greatest mining cities that brought in thousands of inhabitants to the district. It represented the early development of Nevada with saloons, banks, and railroads that were open to the public.

Nevada has a unique set of state laws, which are commonly found in Las Vegas. The unique gambling laws allow people from all over America to go to Las Vegas, Nevada. The American population has made it so famous and well known that people from all over the world come to Nevada to visit Las Vegas. The city has become an economic hub of activity for the state, however, it also contains a number of issues that must be rectified by the American people and government.

Nevada also has a unique relationship with the American military and the United States federal government. Nevada has been host to nuclear testing done by the American military, linking the state to the military in a unique manor. Furthermore, Area 51 resides in Nevada as an American aircraft base. Area 51 is unique due to the controversy and secrecy surrounding it. It has been rumoured to have experienced extraterrestrial activity, or at the very least know of such activity. It is this level of secrecy that has driven the conspiracies to form regarding the aircraft base and has caused it to receive so much attention.

Overall, the Battle Born State of Nevada has been a relatively bright spot in the United States' history. This state has a very extensive and diverse history and it will forever be engraved in American history.


The written history of Nevada is relatively short, however, the area was believed to have been inhabited over 12,000 years ago. When explorers first arrived in Nevada, they met five groups of Native American tribes. The Northern Paiutes, the Western Shoshones, the Southern Paiutes, the Washos, and the Mohave of the Death Valley and Colorado River region made up Nevada's early inhabitants. Nevada's recorded history was first initiated by the Spaniards who entered the territory. The Spanish settlers were the individuals who gave the state its name. In Spanish, the term Nevada means snow-covered mountain range. Anglo-Americans, coming from both the newly formed United States of America and British North America, later followed and explored the region. While the Spaniards did not thoroughly explore Nevada, they successfully left their mark on the state.

Nicknames for the StateEdit

People often refer to Nevada as the “Silver State”, the “Sagebrush State”, or the “Battle Born State”. Nevada was labeled as the “Silver State” due to the contribution of silver to Nevada’s economy. The Comstock Lode happened in 1859 and it paved the way of silver mining in Nevada . It was the first major discovery and it led many other prospectors to search for another Comstock. As a result of passionate wealth seeking prospectors, many other mines were discovered . Also, the name the “Sagebrush State” is derived from its colossal growth of wild sage throughout Nevada. Finally, the last name that people often refer the state to is labeled as the “Battle Born State”. This name or nickname rather for the state originates from the fact that Nevada was granted statehood during the Civil War . Nevada troops fought during the Civil War as a part of the Union army, and it was said by Phillip Dodd Smith Jr. that “The slogan of the State of Nevada is ‘“Battle Born”’. This is the history of the men who helped fight that battle for her” . All three of these are incorporated into Nevada’s official state flag, displaying the true significance these three titles encompass.

Divorce Capital of the WorldEdit

Nevada was known to be the place to get a quick and painless divorce. Back then, divorce was generally not accepted and truly difficult to obtain in the United States. The fact that Nevada was a place that granted easy access to a divorce allowed for people to migrate there for temporary residence. It was said that “Reno, Nevada held the title of the divorce capital of the world for six decades”. Reno became the “divorce mill” for many reasons, including their liberal divorce laws. It began as early as 1906, when many property owners and businessmen seeking for success took advantage of the business they were receiving from temporary residents pursuing a quick divorce. It was easier to access divorce in Nevada due to its short required residency period. The time required in 1909 was just six months of residency, and preceding that time period the mandatory residency required for divorce continued to be shortened. Nevada was known for having one of the most liberal laws for divorce in the country, including attaining the no-fault clause. This meant that there was no one particularly at fault for the cause of the divorce. The relocation to Nevada was manageable for the majority of Americans, and some would even travel over a thousand miles just to obtain a divorce. The “quickie divorce” nickname was in motion until 1970 when an increasing number of states began to accept the "no-fault" divorce. In recent times, Nevada is still known to have high divorce rates.

Exploration and Political DevelopmentsEdit

The thorough exploration of the region happened in the midst of a period of expansion guided by the ideology of the “Manifest Destiny”, which stated that the United States should occupy the entire North American Continent. The notion of exploration can be attributed to Presidency of James K. Polk. Polk had a large part in advancing the beliefs of Manifest Destiny. The Mexican–American War which the United States dominated because of their size and organisation allowed Nevada to become an unorganized part of the Union, the Mormon exodus was a following of Mormon pioneers that travelled across the United States in order to settle, and the California Gold Rush brought entrepreneurs and money to area of Nevada, together shaped the history of Nevada and the development of its political, demographic, and economic structures. Nevada finally became a territory after a period known as the “era of anarchy and confusion,” lasting between 1857 and 1861. Nevada separated from the Utah Territory that same year. Both the making of Nevada as a territory and its transition towards statehood happened during the Civil War, and resulted from unauthorized conventions and elections. Nevada joined the Union in 1864 without even meeting the population requirements for statehood. Its constitution, still in use today, was based on the constitution of California and New York. It has since then been amended more than one-hundred and forty times.

Nevada constitution (1864) signature page

Statehood, Diversity and EqualityEdit

Nevada emerged as the 36th state of the United States of America in 1864. Nevada’s path to statehood was complex, and highlighted the growing pains experienced by the United States. Nevada’s admission to the United States highlighted political differences between its citizens and the government in Washington. This political difference was displayed during the controversy surrounding the mining-tax provision, which created a rift between Nevadan citizens and their representation in Washington. Nevada, as an early state, had a variety of inhabitants. This included immigrants of different backgrounds; Native-Americans, Mormons, and African-Americans, which all defined Nevada’s diverse population. This diversity was still a minority when compared to Nevada’s population of white male citizens. Nevada’s native inhabitants were victims of cultural assimilation and faced mobs of missionaries. This inequality was characteristic of the treatment of Native peoples in America during its early development. In 1869, Nevadan Assemblyman Curtis J. Hillyer proposed the idea of women’s suffrage in Nevada’s legislative assembly. Nevada’s orientation towards women’s suffrage was contrasted by themes of racism and inequality found in early Nevada and the wider United States. Nevada’s suffragists were considered “white suffragists.” This movement was not inclusive of minority women and contributed toward white supremacy in the early state of Nevada.

Economics - Nevada's Booms and BustsEdit

The history of Nevada has been characterized by a series of boom and bust cycles since its beginning as a territory. The first boom experienced by Nevada followed the discovery of gold and silver at Comstock Lode in 1859, and reaching its peak in 1880. However, it busted at the turn of the twentieth century and the state’s population went down by 68%. With a population of only 91,000 in the early 1930s, Nevada was close to bankruptcy. Nevadan legislators soon legalized gambling and changed the state's divorce laws in hopes of increasing state-growth economically and demographically. The 1930s were a decade of fear for most Americans because of the Great Depression, but for Nevada it was a decade of renewed interests in activities that lay at the essence of capitalism, like gambling. Nevada's casino culture finds its origins in the 1930s. Nevada's casinos also produce a large amount of revenue for the state's economy. Winnings in Nevada casinos have a state tax. These taxes ended up being one fifth (1/5) of the state's overall revenue. The economic welfare of the state has become increasingly dependent on gambling since the end of the Second World War.

Ranching was common in the beginning of Nevada’s history. The process entailed “an outdoor life, eking out what would grow in the highly alkaline soil using what water was available and raising what livestock could survive” in a dry climate that made it difficult to perform. The Hoover Dam was able to create consistent water supply to these dry regions. The farmers were able to gain hope because of the tremendous expansion of the regions agricultural sector. The largest ranch was located in Las Vegas, with a variety of livestock that the farmers used as a means to generate money. Evidently, ranching was a central component to the growth of Nevada in the beginning of its statehood.

The mining deposits discovered in Nevada changed the course of history. In Nevada, the gold and silver deposits in Tonopah, Goldfield and the Bullfrog district made the region attractive to minors and investors which stimulated growth. These attractions made southern Nevada and Las Vegas viable areas that attracted inhabitants and tourists. Evidently, modern day Nevada owes its current status to the earliest residents of the state who made a dry desert area flourish with activity.

However, Nevada’s economic success and pathway to statehood are not the only significant history behind the Sagebrush State; its demographics also differ from the rest of the United States. In 2014, only 24% of the citizens of Nevada had been born within the state. For the period between 1990 and 2010 Nevada’s population increased from 1.2 million to 2.7 million, making it the fastest growing state in America.

Comstock Boom and Nevadan Mining CultureEdit

Birds Eye View of Virginia City, 1875 (drawing)

The mining boom that brought forward Nevada’s statehood reflected the ideas of boom and bust present in America’s young economy. Nevada has had three key mining booms throughout their history. The first was the silver boom between 1860-1880, the goldfield boom happened in 1900-1920 and the last boom was Carlintype deposits that began in 1980 and still occur today. Henry Comstock’s discovery of the Comstock Lode metal deposits in 1859 propelled young Nevada forward. Following the discovery, men rushed to Nevada looking to reap profits from mining. The influx of people rushing toward the prospect of a mining fortune caused Nevada’s economy to flourish. The boom helped shape a culture and atmosphere throughout Nevadan settlements that would characterize Nevada in the future. With new towns and settlements emerging overnight, Nevada as a state experienced gaps in its authority. “Boom” settlements, such as Virginia City, were born. These settlements were noted as the epicenter of America’s Gilded age, and provided a place for Nevada’s mining pilgrims to blow off steam. Towns like Virginia City were filled with saloons and other places of entertainment for their inhabitants. These saloons provided miners a place to “seek boozy camaraderie”, but were far from portraying the ideas associated with the “Gilded Age.” These establishments provided places for the people of Nevada to engage in vices such as profuse whisky consumption and gambling. The mining boom brought a significant presence of gambling to the young state. Professional gamblers flocked in large numbers hoping to make fortunes, a mindset similar to the arriving miners. However, the mining boom did not last forever, and by the early 1880s Nevada’s mining industry was declining. With a lack of new metal prospects and the decline of previously massive reserves, Nevada’s mining industry decreased, leading to a drop in stock value. The bust highlighted the theme of capitalism in Nevada. The true winners of Nevada’s early mining period were not the mining companies, but the entrepreneurs who outfitted and provided the miners with their provisions.

Fred B. Balzar (Nevada Governor)

Early mine in the Comstock Lode (Source: Library of Congress)

Boom and Bust Post MiningEdit

Nevada’s quick growth as a state highlighted the downfalls of being dependent on the mining industry. Early legislators in Nevada, like James Scrugham, echoed national themes of conservation, as he was committed to supporting a system of protected parks in Nevada. Parts of Nevada’s rugged landscape became noted for their “scenic-merit,” which appealed as tourist attractions. The realization that reliance on the mining industry was volatile and unsustainable promoted Nevada’s potential to profit from tourism. Nevada soon took steps to protect some of its most scenic locations in an effort to draw in tourists. In 1922 Nevada’s Lehman Caves became a national monument. This was significant as this site was connected to Nevada’s new central highway, providing easy access for tourists. Nevada’s early tourist boom brought with it infrastructure investment and new legislation. A gas-tax was tabled to help pay for the approximate thousand miles of newly paved highway in Nevada. With a decline in out-of-state tourists, Nevadan legislators looked at alternatives to draw in tourists from out-of-state. The bust in nature-based tourism gave way to a new precedent that would shape Nevada’s future. In 1931, Governor Fred Balzar legalized gambling throughout the state of Nevada in hopes of diversifying the state's tourist revenues. The introduction of gambling to Nevada became hugely beneficial to the Sagebrush State. Las Vegas saw its first legal gambling institutions open in the early 1930s. Such institutions displayed the theme of capitalism, as they profited off nearby workers helping build what would become the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam started construction in 1931 and was finished by 1931. This Dam was seen as a symbol of optimism, a marvel of technology and an indicator of modernity in the West. The development of Nevadan gambling institutions gave way to another tourist boom. By early 1950 Nevada was hosting millions of tourists looking to win big at its casinos. This growth eventually became exponential and propelled Las Vegas to become noted as a world-class destination for gambling. Nevada’s institutions reaped huge profits from the crowds of tourists. Another critical tourist appeal in Nevada was the Hoover Dam, it has attracted millions of tourists to the south west for leisure purposes.


The evolution of the state of Nevada can be easily understood if looked at in three periods, with each covering a forty-year span: 1859-1899, 1900-1939, 1940-1980. Mining economics shaped the first of those three periods. From 1864 onwards, economics influenced Nevadan politics as the wealthy elite in control made their way into the political world rather easily thanks to their economic power. Railroad and mining industries were in control of state politics at every level during this era. The support for Progressive Era reforms marked the first two decades of the second period. It was also marked by the democratic electoral methods that Nevada adopted, namely initiative, referendum, and recall. Regarding the mining industry, this period saw its interests being moved from gold and silver to copper that was needed in the electrical industry. The third period opened with the beginning of the Second World War in Europe, which resulted in an increase in the demand for the state’s copper. The Second World War also contributed to more federal investment in Nevada for the establishment of military bases and test sites. While mining still played an important role in Nevada’s economy during the years 1940 to 1980, tourism and gambling started to outplay mining as the key industry of the state.

Involvement in World War II And Post-WarEdit

1988 Aerial view of NAS Fallon

Nevada became home to a number of military bases during World War II. The state’s inland location, perfect flying weather, and vast tracts of federally owned and relatively unpopulated desert lands made it well suited for Military installations. Until the Second World War, there had been no military installations of extreme significance in Nevada. This was to change in 1942 when the air base at Fallon was transferred to the United State Navy for use as an auxiliary station. The base was the largest inland airport in the West during the war and dispatched planes on torpedo practice runs over Pyramid Lake, gunnery practice over Churchill County, and dive-bombing practice over Frenchman’s Flat. Although the Navy closed the base at the end of World War II, it was opened for operation again during the Korean War and has remained in full operation ever since. Since World War II, the army, navy, air force, and marine reserves stationed and trained in the various military bases located in Nevada have been playing an even larger role in national defence planning and organization.

Nevada Test SiteEdit

After World War II, Nevada became a significant area for United States nuclear tests. Originally nuclear tests were mainly conducted in The Bikini Atoll more than 4,600 miles away from the mainland. This became increasingly costly for the United States government so in 1950, a search for a safe testing ground in mainland United States began. The result was the Nevada Test Site located in the Nevada desert. The Nevada Test Site is roughly 1,375 square miles of desert land that is controlled by the Department of Energy. It is located north-west of Las Vegas in the southern part of the great Basin. The first test conducted at the Nevada Test Site was on January 27th, 1951. Then from 1951 to 1992 a total of 928 nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site. These tests were conducted in order to prove a variety of reasons. These reasons included seeing the effect nuclear bombs would make on man-made structures and the environment, proof-testing of existing nuclear bombs and the testing of new nuclear weapons. In several cases "Survival Towns" were created to see the effect of the bomb. Survival Towns are artificial towns stocked with buildings, houses, mannequins and household items in order to observe the effect nuclear missiles would have on populated areas at different distances. In the early 1950s and operation was carried out code named Operation Desert Rock which served the purpose of examining the effect nuclear weapons would have on the military. Military manoeuvres were conducted and troops were sometimes ordered to lay in trenchs miles away from the blast. Atomic Veteran Lamond Davis reported said "I could see the bones in both my hands". Testing has currently stopped but the Department of Energy reserves the right to continue testing at any time if the situation arises.

The Nevada Test Site became extremely popular in the media during the atomic tests. In 1952 cameras were allowed onto the site and Atomic Tests became fascinating to the public. Tourists would go to Las Vegas, which was 65 miles away from the Test Site, and watch the detonations from the roof of their hotels or from their cars. For those living close to the blasts in Nevada and neighbouring states, such as Utah and Arizona, the tests were more of a public hazard compared to entertainment. In 1955 several newspapers were stating that there was little radiation fallout and that health was to be unaffected by the tests. The Las Vegas Review-Journal was at the forefront of these claims stating in March 1955 that "Fallout on Las Vegas and vicinity following this morning's detonation was very low and without any effects on health,". David Lawernce stated in the Washington Post that "The truth is, there isn't the slightest proof of any kind that the 'fallout' as a result of tests in Nevada has ever affected any human being anywhere outside the testing ground itself.". By this time though cases of leukemia was starting to rise in places downwind of the tests. Even with a rising rate of cancer, health sided-effects were continually denied by the federal government. In 1990 the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed which ensured payments to some of those claiming to be affected by the nuclear fallout. Over 2 billion dollars US has been payed out to over 32,000 people since the Act was passed.

Recent Developments and Civil RightsEdit

In the past three decades the competition between Democrats and Republicans alongside the fast paced population growth have helped shape Nevada. In the past one-hundred and forty years Nevada has changed drastically; the state went from a region ruled by vigilantes to one of opportunities. Nevada was one of the leading states in terms of civil rights as it was one of the first to give women the right to vote and ratify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Regarding presidential elections, Nevada has been siding with the winner since 1992 in every single election, except for the most recent presidential election. The 2016 elections were also a first for Nevada as the Sagebrush State elected its first female Senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, who also happens to be the first Latina to serve in the United State Senate.

Nevada has struggled with the issue of water for a long time. This is mainly due to its location and stems from the quantity, quality, and allocation that dominate the policy and politics. The scarce supply of water has been a concern across the western half of the United States, even causing Las Vegas to tap surface and ground water sources in outlying counties and adjoining states. The issue of water is one of the many obstacles that Nevada will have to face as a state. Overall, due to its dry environment, it will persist as an issue into the foreseeable future.

Nevada offers something for everyone, its diverse social values truly make it unique. The state has a sophisticated society and a mining frontier with both liberal attitudes toward gambling, divorce, and prostitution. On the other hand, there are conservative elements that dominate the politics of the state. The state represents the focal point of fun activities, while also dominated by its own kind of politics. In terms of conservative attitudes, it promotes the protection of industry as a constitutional right. Nevada is liberal in terms of the legality surrounding prostitution. Some may consider this as being a very libertarian way of thinking. Nevada has always been unique as its form and views on politics differentiate from mainstream America. Ultimately, this is uniquely Nevadan because no other state offers such a wide range of entertainment while also containing a strong right-wing movement within the state. Liberal and Conservative views often do not mix very well together, however, Nevada has been able to deviate from the political normalities of the country.

The state of Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, and also begun the construction of the Hoover Dam. It was named after the President of the United States at the time, Herbert Hoover. The Hoover Dam employed many men and women, however, it costed over a hundred casualties in the process of its construction. This dam was and still is a vital piece of technology to the state of Nevada and the city of Las Vegas, as it provides the city with a vital and reliable source of electricity. Today, the Hoover Dam is still in function, and one of the largest hydroelectric producing dams in the United States.