Look back at the first presidential visit to Las Vegas — PHOTOS
Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first sitting president to visit Las Vegas in 1935, when he came to Southern Nevada for the Hoover Dam dedication.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first sitting president to visit Las Vegas on Sept. 30, 1935, when he dedicated the Hoover Dam (then called Boulder Dam).
Former Sen. Key Pittman, D-Nev., recounted details of Roosevelt’s visit to Southern Nevada to the Review-Journal. The trip included Boulder City, Mount Charleston and downtown Las Vegas.
On the morning of the dam’s dedication, Pittman said, two miles of cars were parked on the side of the road leading to the dam with people cheering for the president.
Roosevelt, in his dedication speech, referred to Boulder City’s town site before its construction as a “cactus-covered waste,” possibly in reference to both the arid desert landscape and the squatter camps that had housed dam workers under President Herbert Hoover in the early 1930s.
Dam workers even booed Hoover during his historic visit to Boulder City in 1932 as the first sitting president to ever visit the town. The Roosevelt administration changed Hoover Dam’s name to Boulder Dam before Congress changed the name back in 1947.
“The transformation wrought here in these years is a twentieth-century marvel,” Roosevelt said in his speech.
After the dedication, Pittman said, the president remarked on his administration’s plans to turn Lake Mead (which had not been named yet) into a great recreation area.
“He talked about the kind of fish that should be stocked in this lake and asserted that the greatest fish hatchery in the United States would be established in the vicinity of this lake, to constantly supply it with game fish so that they might overcome the predatory fish that usually are found in this river. There was no rush.” Pittman told the RJ.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt also attended the dedication and toured the dam. Pittman told the RJ that she was “deeply invested in every government project.”
After the dedication, the first lady encouraged the president and Pittman to visit Mount Charleston, which began being advertised as a tourist destination during the mid-1930s.
“She had heard of the remarkable road (being built) throughout this great forest reserve, almost entirely by hand labor and by transients,” Pittman said. “She insisted on seeing it.”
While driving into Las Vegas after the mountain trip, Pittman said, the president asked him how many people lived in the town. Pittman speculated that there were between 8,000 and 10,000 people in the valley, but because of the city’s rapid growth, he didn’t know the exact number.
Pittman and Roosevelt then visited Fremont and Fifth streets (Fifth Street was later renamed Las Vegas Boulevard), where again the president was greeted by thousands of people who gathered for several blocks to see him. Roosevelt was gifted a ten-gallon hat and a gold and silver key to the city from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
Roosevelt told Pittman, “Key, either this place has more than ten thousands population or else nobody is at home today.”
The RJ boasted that the president was happy after his visit overall and especially enjoyed his trip to the mountains and seeing “one of the most remarkable sunsets that we witness so often in this country,” with the first lady.
Pittman told the RJ, “I am delighted to say to the citizens of southern Nevada that the president enjoyed every minute of his stop in southern Nevada.”