In the October 1853 Mormon general conference, church president Brigham Young directed Lorenzo Snow, an apostle in the church, to take fifty families to the Box Elder area and develop a cooperative system in which the community would become self-sufficient, producing all that they consumed. Snow chose artisans skilled in trades important to the development of a pioneer community. Most were Mormon converts from Denmark.
Snow became the political and ecclesiastical leader of the community. In 1855 he had the town plat surveyed, renamed the settlement Brigham City after church president Brigham Young, and encouraged the people to build permanent homes. Several small businesses were established during the 1850s, and the Box Elder County Courthouse, under construction from 1855 to 1857, was used for city and county business, theatrical productions, and religious meetings until church buildings could be built.
By 1864 Lorenzo Snow was ready to implement his plans for a cooperative community. A mercantile store, established in 1864, was the first cooperative business, but soon many different types of industries and services were added. Workers were paid in scrip which could be used for trade in any of the departments of the cooperative. By the mid-1870s, the cooperative association was producing all the commodities necessary for maintenance of the community, and Snow had realized his goal of making the people of Brigham City independent of the outside world. His cooperative became a prototype for similar ventures in Mormon settlements throughout Utah. It was recognized as the first and most successful of the Mormon cooperative organizations. However, a series of financial disasters between 1876 and 1879 crippled the organization and forced the association to begin selling its industries to private businessmen. The Co-op went into receivership in 1895.
After the demise of the Co-op, private enterprise in the area flourished. By 1910 Brigham City's population was 4,000, and its residents were running local industries and retail businesses as well as operating farms. In the 1920s and 1930s Brigham City essentially remained a small Mormon agricultural town specializing in fruit production.
Bushnell General Hospital, built in 1942 to treat soldiers wounded in World War II, changed the quiet community. The sixty-building facility constructed on 235 acres brought a major boost to the economy. From the beginning of its construction until its close in 1946, Bushnell provided new jobs for local people. Farmers sold produce to the hospital, and business on Main Street increased with the influx of the hospital staff and patients. After Bushnell closed, from 1950 until 1984 the facility housed the Intermountain Indian School, a boarding school for young Indian students.
Brigham City's growth rate increased rapidly with the construction in 1957 of Thiokol Chemical Corporation's Wasatch Division, the largest manufacturing enterprise in Box Elder County's history. Brigham's population of 6,790 in 1950 increased to 11,720 in 1960, to 14,000 in 1970 and to 15,596 in 1980 as both Thiokol's solid-fuel motor production and number of employees expanded. By 1990 Brigham City's population was 20,000.