Utah History Encyclopedia


By Philip F. Notarianni

Italian Lodge parade, Bingham, 1909

Italian immigration was one of the largest influxes of southern and eastern European groups into Utah. While some Protestant Waldensians from northern Italy had immigrated in the 1870s after being converted by the Mormon missionary program, the bulk of Italians came to Utah during the period from the 1890s to the 1920s in response to demands for unskilled labor in the mining and railroad industries. Italians came primarily from the regions of Piemonte, Veneto (Tyroleans), Abruzzi, Lazio (Romans), Calabria, and Sicilia. Immigrants mainly were attracted to four counties, Carbon, Salt Lake, Tooele, and Weber. Coal mining, metal mining, work in mills, smelters, and refineries, railroading, farming and ranching, and involvement in service-related industries and businesses provided livelihoods for these immigrants.

In Carbon County, immigrants settled in the towns of Castle Gate, Scofield, Clear Creek, Hiawatha, Kenilworth, Sunnyside, Columbia, Spring Canyon, and Standard, as well as in Price, Spring Glen, and Helper. As an early hub of the D&RGW Railroad, Helper became an important town of Italian settlement. Italians, primarily from the north of Italy, settled there after the 1903 strike, moving into businesses and the professions. Joseph Barboglio became especially important as the founder of Helper State Bank, an institution that, along with the Stella D'America Lodge, aided other Italians in expanding their economic horizons.

Immigrants in Salt Lake County resided in Salt Lake City and in the mining areas of Bingham Canyon, Magna, Midvale, and Murray. The west side of Salt Lake housed a Little Italy around a cluster of shops and businesses that catered to Italian tastes. One such establishment was F. Anselmo and Company, located on Rio Grande Street. In the south end of the city, immigrants had truck farms that supplied fruit and produce to the Farmer's Market in Salt Lake City (located at 500 South and West Temple). Others, including Luigi Nicoletti, ran goat ranches that specialized in cheese and meat goods sold to Italian and Greek miners. Nicoletti even shipped his products to the Midwest via the Union Pacific Railroad.

Those who lived in Tooele County found work in the mining town of Mercur, an early central location for Italians and the site of one of their first fraternal organizations. In fact, photographs survive that show boccie (a form of bowling) being played by Italians in the streets. In Tooele City many settled in "old town." Work was found in the Tooele smelter (run by the International Smelting and Refining Company), where safety signs were printed in some six languages.

A sizable number of Tyroleans settled in the Ogden area. Family records indicate that many of these Tyrolean Italians first worked in the Wyoming coal mines in Rock Springs, Reliance, and Superior, and then migrated to Ogden where they started farming or business ventures. Section-hands for the Union Pacific Railroad also headquartered in Ogden. Utah's "Junction City" also attracted Sicilian immigrants.

Arriving in Utah primarily as single men, Italians, who had intended to be but sojourners in Utah, decided to establish families and settle in the Beehive State. Social and fraternal organizations abounded, and included Stella D'America, Castle Gate (1898); Principe Di Napoli, Castle Gate (1902); Fratellanza Minatori, Sunnyside (1902); Societa' Cristoforo Colombo, Castle Gate (ca. 1919); Italian Americanization Club (1919); Societa' Di Beneficenza, Bingham Canyon and Mercur (1896); Societa' Cristoforo Colombo, Salt Lake City (1897); Club Dante Allighieri, Salt Lake City (1908); Figli D'Italia, Salt Lake City (1915); the Italian-American Civic League, Salt Lake City (1934); the Friendly Club (Tyrolean-Italians), Ogden (1937); and Societa' Cristoforo Colombo, Ogden (ca. 1930s).

Italian coal miners played an important role in the Carbon County strike of 1903-04 with labor organizer Carlo Demolli assuming a leading role in the United Mine Workers of America. From the late 1910s through the 1930s, Frank Bonacci, from Decollatura, Italy, led a tireless effort for UMWA recognition. After union recognition in the 1930s, Bonacci became the first Italian-American elected to the Utah House of Representatives.

Italian-language newspapers (with their publishers) produced in Utah included Il Minatore (Mose Paggi), La Gazetta Italiana (G. Milano), La Scintilla (Alfonso Russo and Milano), and Il Corriere D'America (Frank Niccoli and Russo). Other Italian papers were also read in Utah homes: Il Vindice (Pueblo, Colorado), Il Lavoratore Italiano (Trinidad, Colorado), L'Italia and Protesta Umana (San Francisco, California), and La Follia di New York and Il Progresso Italo-Americano (New York).

Italians in Utah reached an accommodation with the dominant society but have maintained vestiges of their ethnic culture, and many continue in contact with relatives and friends in Italy. Monsignor Alfredo F. Giovanonni, a Catholic prelate from Lucca, Italy, served the Utah Catholic community for some fifty years. In a similar manner, Vice Consul Fortunato Anselmo, from Grimaldi, Italy, functioned not only as a businessman but as a consular agent who aided Italians (and those of other nationalities) in the preparation of official documents and correspondence to be sent abroad. Anselmo worked to have Columbus Day declared an official state holiday in 1919. That first Columbus Day parade in Salt Lake City received wide support and excellent press coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Religious and secular holidays, feast days, and celebrations, with their accompanying folk foods, provided many Italians with some continuity with the past. Tales of folk beliefs and their manifestations, such as the evil eye, continue in the memories of many. Weddings and baptisms were joyous occasions where folk foods and traditions cemented the immigrant's cultural values. Abruzzese in Utah prepared the traditional pizzelle, a waffle-type cookie that often had on it initials and/or important dates. The Tyrolean polenta (corn meal) remains an important food vestige of cultural tradition. Outdoor baking ovens continue to dot the Carbon County landscape. Calabrese prepared aromatic bread in these vestiges of their Italian past. Local vegetable gardens still produce spices and herbs central to Italian cuisine. Even the outbuildings compare in style and type to those left behind in Italian villages and towns.

Various religious celebrations, such as Carnivale and feasts to particular patron saints, were maintained for a while but often were changed in the caldron of time. New forms of secular celebrations developed in the new environment. One manifestation of this was the celebration by Salt Lake City Italians of Christopher Columbus as the "First Pioneer of America" on a day designated by Utahns as Pioneer Day (24 July). Social and fraternal organizations sponsored dances and dinners, which combined the old value of sociability with the new form of a dance or banquet. The Friendly Club of Ogden, organized by those of Tyrolean-Italian heritage, provides a good case in point. The Men's and Women's chapters of the Italian American Civic League started the All State Italian Day Celebration at the Lagoon amusement park in 1934. Although halted during World War II, the event is still celebrated in August of each year at Lagoon, providing a gathering place for Italians to celebrate their ethnic identity.

Italian musical groups and bands heralded a developing preference for this art form. Sunnyside had its own Italian band, complete with a music professor from Grimaldi, Italy. Salt Lake City Italians enjoyed the music of various individuals and bands who often played at dances and celebrations. Even the San Carlo Opera Company managed to give concerts in Utah. Accordion, guitar, and mandolin music could be heard emanating from many mining camps, bouncing with the rhythm of a tarantella or echoing the lyrics of a popular folk song. Even during World War II, with the presence of Italian prisoners of war in Ogden, Fort Douglas, Tooele, and Deseret, the Ogden camp boasted of its thirty-piece orchestra known as the "Camp Ogden Army Service Forces Italian Service Unit Brass Band." Even in the remote area of Promontory Station, Utah, Italian section-hands for the Southern Pacific were heard serenading the local residents.

Restrictive immigration legislation of the 1920s had effectively cut off the flow of Italians into Utah. In the 1950s and through the 1960s a few new arrivals entered the state, having been summoned by family and friends. Ties between immigrants (and their families) with those abroad continue in both active and passive ways. There is a connection between places of destination and places of origin that have withstood the test of time. The presence of a monument to the dead of World War I in Grimaldi, Italy, financed by the many Grimaldese of Utah, helps to illustrate the interaction and connection between Utah and Italian history.

See: Philip F. Notarianni, "Italianita in Utah: The Immigrant Experience," in Helen Z. Papanikolas, ed., The Peoples of Utah (1976); Philip F. Notarianni, "Italian Fraternal Organizations in Utah, 1897-1934," Utah Historical Quarterly 43 (1975); Philip F. Notarianni, "Italian Involvement in the 1903-04 Coal Miners' Strike in Southern Colorado and Utah," in George E. Pozzetta, ed., Pane E Lavoro: The Italian American Working Class (1980); Philip F. Notarianni and Richard Raspa, "The Italian Community of Helper, Utah: Its Historic and Folkloric Past and Present," in Richard N. Juliani, ed., The Family and Community Life of Italian Americans (1983); Richard Raspa, "Exotic Foods Among Italian-Americans in Mormon Utah," in Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussel, eds., Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States (1984); and David A. Taylor and John Alexander Williams, Old Ties, New Attachments: Italian-American Folklife in the West (1992).