Nevada Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Long a lightly populated, arid, and undeveloped region, Nevada began its modern development during the mid-nineteenth century, after silver was discovered in its west-central area. Since that time, Nevada has always depended on immigrant labor to help develop its economy. Beginning with railroads and mining and continuing with its modern entertainment and hospitality service industries, immigrant groups have provided a large and effective workforce throughout Nevada.

Nevada became a U.S. territory in 1861 and a state in 1864, but major events in 1859 had a dramatic impact on its future development and began attracting immigrants into the region. Discovery of the famous Comstock silver lode quickly established Gold Hill and Virginia City as major mining centers, and new immigrants began pouring in, hoping to strike it rich in the booming silver mining industry. Along with American investors and miners came large numbers of foreign laborers who worked in the mines and provided essential services to the growing population. Immigrants from Ireland, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and the Balkan peninsula all came to Nevada seeking employment or fortune. These immigrants joined already established communities of Chinese immigrants;NevadaChinese laborers who had been brought in to help build railroad lines connected to the transcontinental railroad. By 1870, the state had almost 3,000 Chinese workers, who trailed only American-born residents and Irish immigrants in numbers. Ten years later, the state had more than 5,000 Chinese, who by then outnumbered the Irish immigrants. U.S. Census figures for 1880 show Nevada with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in theunion.NevadaNevada[cat]STATES;Nevada[03810]

Twentieth Century Arrivals

Although most of Nevada’s immigrant communities had been brought in to provide cheap and efficient labor, many of the immigrants faced discrimination and violence throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1908, Reno’s city government tried to discourage more Chinese from coming by burning down the Chinatowns;Renocity’s Chinatown for “sanitary reasons.” Such actions were not, however, directed only against Asian immigrants. For example, the town of McGill tried to expel all its Greek immigrants;NevadaGreek residents in 1908. Violence was also routinely directed against Italian immigrants;NevadaItalian and Serbian immigrants;NevadaSerbian immigrants as nativist fervor captivated much of Nevada during the early twentieth century.

Mexicans Mexican immigrants;Nevadabegan immigrating into Nevada during the silver boom years but did not arrive in large numbers until the mid-twentieth century, when the state participated in the bracero guest-worker program, which was stated in 1942 to provide low-cost labor for American farmers. Most bracero workers returned to Mexico after completing their labor contracts, but some remained and established homes in and around the main urban centers of Las Vegas and Reno. By 1950, nearly 10 percent of the residents of Las Vegas’s Clark County were counted as Hispanic.

As the cities of Las Vegas and Reno established themselves as major national centers of gaming and tourism, new immigrants were drawn to the expanding employment opportunities that the cities offered. Since the late 1940’s, Nevada’s casinos have steadily multiplied and grown ever larger, creating an increasing need for service workers. Immigrants from both foreign countries and other parts of the United States have flooded into the state. A high percentage of the foreign immigrants have been Latin Americans, particularly Mexicans. By 1980, Clark County’s Hispanic population had increased by 600 percent since 1950.

By the year 2007, Nevada was one of the fastest-growing states in the union, with a total population of approximately 2.5 million people. Nevada was also the most culturally diverse state within the Rocky Mountain region, with African Americans accounting for 7 percent of the total population and Asian Americans 6 percent. The state’s Hispanic population was second only to its “white” population in numbers, with approximately 500,000 residents, who accounted for 20 percent of the total population. The state’s largest cities have also developed notable ethnic enclaves. Within the major urban areas, Las Vegas, for example, has a dynamic Chinatowns;Las VegasChinatown along the western edge of Interstate 15 and a large shopping district catering to Asians in its downtown area.Nevada

Further Reading
  • BeDunnah, Gary P. A History of the Chinese in Nevada. San Francisco: R&E Research Associates, 1973.
  • Elliott, Russell R. History of Nevada. 2d ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
  • Hulse, James W. The Silver State: Nevada’s Heritage Reinterpreted. 3d ed. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2004.
  • James, Ronald M. Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1998.
  • Shepperson, Wilbur S. Restless Strangers: Nevada’s Immigrants and Their Interpreters. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1970.



Chinese immigrants

Economic opportunities


History of immigration after 1891

Irish immigrants

Italian immigrants

Labor unions


Categories: History