My VIP for this week is Brigham Young. He was born 216 years ago on June 1, 1801, and died August 29, 1877, at age 76. He was a husband, father, and grandfather. He was the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the first governor for the Utah Territory. He was a skilled craftsman – painter, glazier, and master carpenter. He was an excellent orator and was called the “Lion of the Lord” by his followers. He was a great leader who had a huge impact upon the American West.
Brigham Young is known as “the American Moses” or “the great colonizer” to historians because he “led a religious exodus through a desert to a promised land” just as the biblical prophet Moses did. The purpose for the Mormon exodus was to find a place of protection from “persecution and outside influence.” He supervised a group of 60,000-70,000 Mormon pioneers who traveled 1300 miles to the Salt Lake Valley.
Young was also instrumental in helping converts to the Church to immigrate from overseas by establishing Perpetual Emigrating Fund in 1850. This fund contributed to more than 30,000 Mormon converts emigrating from the “British Isles, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands” to the United States.
Mormon developed more than 350 settlements in the Utah Territory that is now covered by Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming. The design of the new communities was based on a grid system, a strategy that brought easy expansion and adaptation in the modern age. The streets were planned wide enough for a wagon to turn around. The ingenuity in this plan can be seen in the adaptation for modern traffic in the cities. There was no need to remove buildings in order to widen the streets for mass transit because they were already wide enough.
Young wanted the members of the Church to be independent and self-reliant, and he wanted the Church to be self-sufficient economically. To make this possible, he established and developed businesses and industries, such as sugar and textile industries, iron works, and a bank. He assisted in building telegraph and railroad lines and organizing a mail service.
One of the businesses that he founded was Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI), America’s first department store. This store “sold everything from lumber to beauty products.” The ZCMI stores were owned by the Church for 132 years and were sold to May Department Stores Company (Macy’s Inc.) in 1999. The historic façade of the first ZCMI store can be seen at the west entrance to Macy’s in downtown Salt Lake City.
Young was a firm believer in secular learning even though he went to school for only 11 days. He established the University of Deseret in 1850. This university is now the University of Utah. Brigham Young Academy, established in 1882, is now Brigham Young University. He considered the theater to be an important part of education and cultural refinement, particularly if it taught moral values.
As President of the Church and the Governor of the Utah Territory, Young led more than 100,000 people. In spite of his extensive responsibilities, he was also involved in the individual lives of the people with counsel in the areas of religion, family issues, and finances.
At the funeral of Brigham Young in 1877, Elder George Q. Cannon said that Young “had been the brain, the eye, the ear, the mouth and hand for the entire people of the Church…. From the greatest problems connected with the organization of this Church down to the smallest minutiae…. Nothing was too small for his mind; nothing was too large.”