When the first white men passed through the Reno area in the 1840s, Washoe and Paiute peoples inhabited the land
along the Truckee River. In the late 1840s and 1850s, thousands of travelers on their way to the California gold
fields lingered a few days in the Truckee Meadows before crossing the Sierra Nevada. The first permanent white
settlement along the Truckee River was Jamison's Station. Jamison reportedly was among the contingent sent in 1855
by Territorial Governor Brigham Young to establish agricultural settlements in what was then the western part of
The discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859 brought a reverse migration from California in the "Rush to Washoe." A
gold strike in an isolated canyon soon became one of the richest silver strikes ever discovered. Boomtowns like
Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City and Dayton sprang up overnight. The growth of the Comstock resulted in the
development of towns in the outlying area, including Carson City, the Nevada state capital, and Reno, which had
become an important agricultural center and transportation hub for people and goods, to and from the Comstock.
In 1859, C. W. Fuller built a bridge across the Truckee River, but annual flooding repeatedly swept it
away. Myron Lake purchased Fuller's crossing in 1860, and after building a sturdier toll bridge, he opened an inn
on the south side of the river. The spot became known as Lakes Crossing. When the Central Pacific Railroad was
pushing east in the late 1860s, Lake deeded 40 acres to the railroad to encourage construction of a depot there.
This became the Reno townsite, officially established on May 13, 1868. The town of Reno quickly became an important
freight and passenger center, and grew rapidly.
Although gaming now plays a key role, historically Nevada's economy was tied to mining and agriculture, and
inherent in these industries is the inevitable cycle of booms and busts. Over the years, Nevada has found several
creative means to support itself through the down times, and early on Reno earned the title "Sin City." It was a
wild and woolly town that placed few restrictions on human behavior. Until the U.S. Army petitioned City fathers to
ban prostitution in 1942, Reno tolerated several brothels. Nevada attempted to control gambling from the beginning,
and although numerous laws were passed, it managed to flourish in back streets and alleys. Seeking ways to survive
the Great Depression, the Nevada Legislature legalized gambling in 1931. Casino gaming, as we know it today,
developed in Reno.
The birth of the Reno divorce colony can be traced to its first celebrity divorce in 1906, when the wife of the
President of U.S. Steel, William Corey, came to Reno to obtain a divorce from her philandering husband. The event
was scandalous and widely publicized. The waiting period for a Nevada divorce was a generous six months, except for
a two-year period, when the residency requirement was increased to one year. In 1927, during a period of
competition among several states for the migratory divorce trade, the Nevada legislature shortened the residency
period to three months. This act boosted the industry and divorce-seekers flocked to Reno. In 1931, Nevada was
beginning to feel the effects of the Great Depression, and seeing an economic opportunity, the Nevada legislature
revised its divorce law once again. This time, it shortened the residency requirement to six weeks, thereby opening
the divorce floodgates. During the 10 years between 1929 and 1939, more than 30,000 divorces were granted at the
Washoe County Courthouse, and Reno was known as the divorce capital of the world.
From the beginning, transportation has been an important theme in the history of Reno and the Truckee Meadows.
The emigrant trails, stage roads, the Pony Express and the railroad have all served to bring people and goods
through the region. By the early 20th century, however, a new means of transportation was making an impact on the
area's development. The Lincoln Highway came through Reno, on its way to the California state line. With the
establishment of the Lincoln Highway, automobile tourism became an economic force in the region, and by the end of
World War II, easy automobile access to Reno's casinos thrust gambling into the forefront of the local and state
economy. Drawn by gambling, the ease of divorce and the area's beautiful natural setting, automobile tourists
flocked to Reno.
Recognizing the importance of automobile tourism to the local economy, the Reno City Council in 1928 decided the
town needed a permanent slogan to go on the lighted arch constructed for the highway exposition the previous year.
The arch was not Reno's first, but it would become its most famous following the motto competition, which promised
$100 to the winner who submitted the slogan "Reno: Biggest Little City in the World."