Utah History Encyclopedia


By Benjamin Urrutia
John Willard Marriott was born 17 September 1900 on his parents' ranch in at Marriott Settlement near Ogden, Utah. From 1919 to 1921 he served an LDS Mission in New England.

In 1923 Marriott graduated from Weber Junior College and began his first business enterprise, selling woolen clothes from Logan to California. He attended the University of Utah and graduated from there in 1926. He married Alice Sheets on 9 June 1927, and the couple had two sons. (She was the stepdaughter of Reed Smoot, LDS apostle and U.S. Senator.) He thus acquired family connections with both the Washington political structure and the Salt Lake City ecclesiastical structure.

In 1927 he opened up a small root beer stand in Washington, D.C., and then quickly upgraded the stand to a restaurant called the Hot Shoppe. He soon opened two others. When the Great Depression hit, he was forced to sell all three. However, he replaced them with two new ones in carefully chosen locations. The Depression also caused the loss of $8,000 of his savings when his bank closed down. But even in these difficult times, chain-store merchandising, with its huge volume and low prices, was thriving. Marriott was determined to apply the same principles to the restaurant business. However, as he was in the midst of increasing the number of his restaurants and expanding the menus, he was diagnosed as having malignant cancer of the lymph nodes, and given between six months and a year to live. Remembering a healing experience from his mission, he requested and received a priesthood blessing, which he credited with healing him completely. He lived half a century after his medical death sentence.

Marriott could now be said to have invented the drive-in restaurant, now a part of the American urban and suburban landscape. In 1937 he began catered meal service for airlines. Besides restaurants and catering, his empire eventually grew to include hotels, cruise liners, and amusement parks. In 1948 he was elected president of the National Restaurant Association and was also appointed president of the Washington Stake of the LDS Church. In 1968 he donated one million dollars (a seventh of the total cost) toward what became the Marriott Library at the University of Utah; and in 1972 he donated another million dollars for the Marriott Activities Center at BYU. He later also made generous donations (including the cost of the famous mural) toward the building of the Washington, D.C., LDS Temple. Marriott died of a heart attack on 13 August 1985.