Utah History Encyclopedia
HOME ABOUT PREFACE

GRANT, HEBER J.

By Ronald Walker
Heber J. Grant, the seventh president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was not only a spiritual leader to many Utahns, but touched them in economic, political, and social ways as well. As the first Mormon Church president born in Utah, his life reflected the development of the territory and young state.

He was born in 1856, the only child of Rachael Ridgeway Ivins Grant, the sixth plural wife of Jedediah M. Grant. His father, a counselor to Brigham Young and mayor of Salt Lake City, died when the infant was a week old. As a result, Rachael's influence was dominant, instilling within him her middle-class, Victorian values. She hoped that Heber would be a churchman; he desired a career in business and government service. At sixteen years of age, he ended his formal schooling and began work in Salt Lake City's incipient commercial district. Within several years he had purchased H.R. Mann and Company, the territory's first insurance concern, and had the additional distinction of being appointed by Brigham Young assistant cashier of Zion's Savings Bank. However, shortly before his twenty-fourth birthday, he received his church's call to preside over the Tooele Stake. Two years later, President John Taylor appointed him to the Council of Twelve Apostles.

As a young apostle he was able to amalgamate his dominant interests: church and business. Believing it his personal ministry to preserve Mormon commercial influence, he launched a series of enterprises. In addition to his insurance agency, he was owner or principal investor in the territory's leading agricultural implement concern, two insurance companies, a livery stable, a leading Salt Lake City newspaper, a bank, the famed Salt Lake Theatre, and the Utah Sugar Company, which provided Utah agriculture with its most important cash crop. There also were less successful ventures in mining and the manufacture of soap and vinegar. During the Panic of 1893 and its aftermath, his eastern loan brokering and public subscriptions maintained the solvency of his church and many Utah businesses as well. The hard times of the 1890s and his subsequent mission calls to Japan and Great Britain at the turn of the century ended this phase of his career.

Rejecting pleas to make himself available for either the U.S. Senate or Utah's governorship, his time increasingly was preoccupied by his ministry and by moral or public issues of overriding concern. Accordingly, he placed himself in the forefront in the drive for Utah prohibition and led several of the state's World War I Liberty Bond drives. He was made president of the Quorum of Twelve in 1916. Two years later he became president of the church.

Almost from the outset the Grant administration was beset with hard times. Farming and agriculture, two of Utah main industries, slumped badly after World War I and deteriorated still further in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Using his eastern business and political contacts, President Grant maintained the financial solvency of Mormonism and such vital Utah industries as banking and sugar beet refining. Moreover, under his direction the Mormon Church established its welfare program that materially aided government relief. It is not too much to say that Grant's effects were pivotal in ameliorating Utah's hard times between the world wars.

There was a second emphasis to his administration. Commanding the national media unlike any other contemporary Utahn, Grant managed to alter long-standing negative stereotypes about Utah and her people. He frequently spoke before influential national groups, personally guided nationally prominent Americans through Utah, boosted Utah's tourism, and quietly assisted sympathetic Hollywood production such as Union Pacific and Brigham Young. Symptomatic of these public relations efforts, Grant cultivated the friendship of leading national opinion makers and visited U.S. presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.

His twenty-seven-year administration (1918-1945) was Mormonism's second longest. During this period, Mormon population increased twofold. He traveled extensively, filled over 1,500 appointments, delivered 1,250 sermons and more than two dozen major addresses to non-Mormon audiences. But his achievement lay in something larger than the hurried pace these statistics suggest. "He was a valiant pioneer and a great fighter," eulogized a friend. "He wrote his own epitaph in the achievements that caused the desert to blossom as a rose."