University of Utah archaeologists estimate that human presence has been in the Wendover area since 9,000 BC. The Goshute Indians were able to forage a living from the harsh environment by hunting and gathering. Area plants provided grass seeds, tubers, berries, and roots while animals ranging from rats and rabbits to antelope and bison were hunted. Tools were fashioned from materials such as flint, bone, and wood for use in hunting and gathering activities.
In 1845, explorer John Fremont was the first white man to pass through the Wendover area. Passing just north of present day Wendover, he named Pilot Peak because its prominence in the salt flats vista was able to provide guidance, as well as marking the end of the unforgiving flats. The Salt Flats continued to be a barrier to westward settlement, whether it is scorching heat in the summertime, snow in the winter, or the mud conditions in the spring. In 1846, the ill-fated Donner Party trekked over the flats, where scores of oxen died and all but the essential cargo was abandoned. The tracks left by the wagons of the Donner Party can still be seen in the flats today.
The Western Pacific Railroad commenced construction of the railroad across the Salt Flats from Salt Lake City in 1900. In 1907, the Railroad pumped water from the springs at Pilot Peak to establish a steam engine relay station, which later became the town of Wendover (it is believed that the town was named for the railroad surveyor Charles Wendover). The town became the home of railroad workers and their families and a supply center for ranchers within a 50-mile radius of the settlement. Wendover later became the site of the completion of the first transcontinental telephone line in 1917. Linking New York with San Francisco, the line was later replaced with a weather-resistant buried cable in 1942.
Wendover, in many ways, was crucial to the United States in surviving and ending both World Wars. During World War I, the world's potash industry was mainly concentrated in Germany, who ceased to be a trading partner at this time. Potash was mined from the flats by an evaporation method in which water was run through a series of channels and evaporation ponds. Because of this extraction method, the United States was able to develop a domestic potash resource.
With World War II came the establishment of the Wendover Army Air Base in 1941. Operated as a sub post to Salt Lake City's Fort Douglas, the base carried out an important mission in the War. It was home to over 5,000 Army Air trainees, and served as the top-secret training center for the atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The tests were conducted entirely at the Wendover base; the base was also home to the Enola Gay, the famous plane that dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima.
The base also fed the local economy during the war. Marguerite McQuinton, a schoolteacher from Ely who served as Army Hostess to the base, observed how “government pay found itself into the nearest place to spend it.” Especially prosperous was William “Bill” Smith, who ran a Hotel/Bar/Casino/Cafe establishment on the Utah/Nevada border. Since gasoline was rationed during the war, Smith's business was able to take advantage of the curtailed travel brought on by gasoline rations.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the Wendover Army Air Base was closed. It was reopened in 1954 as a jet-training base, but never regained its status before it was turned over to the City of Wendover as an airport in 1974. It now functions as the Wendover/Tooele County Airport.
In the late 50's and early 60's, Wendover once again gained world-renowned notoriety by being home to the world's highest speed records. The salt flats near town become the site of the Bonneville Speedway, and until the invention of jet engines and aircraft, the 400mph speeds set at the speedway were unequaled anywhere in the world. A prominent figure in the Bonneville Races was Wendover resident Ab Jenkins, who was a safety engineer for Studebaker and set many of the endurance records at the Bonneville Speedway. The Speedway is still used for auto racing today.
Wendover today mainly functions on tourism from the gaming industry in West Wendover. It is one of the most diverse cities in Utah and retains many other strong community character traits. It has many advantages over other Utah towns in that it possesses an extraordinary transportation infrastructure: it is home to a modern airport, is served by Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 40, and the Union Pacific Railroad.
920 E. Wendover Blvd. | P.O. Box 430 | Wendover, UT 84083 - 0430
Phone: 435.665.7771 | Fax: 435.665.2523