A Brief History
On October 31, 1864, the people of the United States got a big treat in their Halloween basket, the newly minted State of Nevada, the 36th state of the Union, appropriately known as “The Silver State.” Right in the middle of the bloodiest war in US history, for good measure.
At the time of admission as a state, Nevada only had about 14,000 people. Only 4 years earlier the number was a paltry 6857 souls. For such a large area (the 7th largest state by area) Nevada has for most of its existence been quite sparsely populated. Check out the numbers: 1870- 92,491: 1900- 40,000 (silver boom over): 1950- 160,083 (dead last of all the states at that time).
Things changed during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when gambling casinos became the latest craze. Reno had been known as “The Biggest Little City in the World,” but that title would soon be stolen by Las Vegas, a town that had a population of only 19 people in 1900!
Blessed with rich mineral resources, but little water, Nevada was largely a mining state and a place to pass through on the way to California. Nevada does not produce the mass quantity of silver that it once did, but is the 4th largest producer of gold in the world. Once those casinos took root, the population began to explode, especially in and around Las Vegas. Tourism became the main source of income for the state. In 1960 Nevada had 285,278 people, and by 1970 this had risen to 488,738, rising steeply again in 1980 to 800,493. The 1990 census saw the state go over a million people (1,201,833) and the current population is around 2.8 million, close to 10 times as many people as in 1960!
Of course, the 2008 collapse of the American economy hurt Nevada like the other states, and shiny new developments around Las Vegas often had empty houses where families had been foreclosed on. At least as the only state in the US with legal prostitution, financially ruined people may find some solace at a local brothel. Like the rest of the country, Nevada’s economy has picked up since then.
With so much open spaces and so few people, Nevada became a popular nuclear bomb testing site, starting in 1951, with the last above ground blast in 1962 and the last below ground blast in 1992. Since the Federal Government owns more than 80% of the land in Nevada, nuclear testing is not much of a surprise.
Nevada’s Caucasian population has shrunk from 91% of the total in 1970 to around 66% by 2010, the biggest reason being the rise in Hispanic population from 5.6% in 1970 to 26.5% in 2010, a significant change in demographics. In fact, Mexican national heritage is almost double that of any other country (20.8% to 13.3% for German, as of 2009). As of 2000, 16.9% of Nevadans spoke Spanish at home.
Despite the name of the state having origins in the Spanish language, the name is pronounced with the a ‘va’ section like that in the word ‘bad’ rather than with the ‘ah’ sound you often hear from non-Nevadans.
Reno, Las Vegas, Casinos, entertainment, hiking, skiing, hunting, and prospecting for gold, there is something for almost everybody in Nevada. My fondest memory of the state was a beggar in the Las Vegas airport with a poster and a kettle. The poster said “Nuke the Whales” with a cartoon whale on it. Only in Nevada!
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever been to Nevada? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bowers, Michael W. The Sagebrush State, 4th Ed: Nevada’s History, Government, and Politics (Volume 4) (Shepperson Series in Nevada History). University of Nevada Press, 2013.
Green, Michael S. Nevada: A History of the Silver State (Shepperson Series in Nevada History). University of Nevada Press, 2015.
And for fun: