Utah History Encyclopedia


By Michael Christensen
Charles W. Nibley, prominent businessman and LDS Church general authority, was born in Hunterfield, Scotland, to James and Jean Wilson Nibley on 5 February 1849, the sixth of eight children. The Nibleys had joined the Mormon Church in April 1844, five years before Charles was born. In 1855 the family emigrated to America, and after a five-year stay in the East came to Utah and settled in Wellsville.

Nibley was a rather small and anemic child, and the physical demands of a frontier life were hard on him. Nibley's formal education was limited and fragmented, but he loved books and read voraciously. He was also an ambitious and gifted businessman. His first start in business was as a storekeeper in Wellsville. He soon moved to Brigham City, where he worked for a prosperous businessman named Morris Rosenbaum, who owned a store and a hotel. Impressed by Nibley's business acumen, Rosenbaum soon made the young man a partner. One of Rosenbaum's hotel employees was Rebecca Neibaur. Nibley fell in love with Rebecca and the two were married in 1869.

Nibley, a devout Mormon, entered into plural marriage. In 1880 he married Ellen Ricks, and in 1885 he married Julia Budge. By his three wives he fathered seventeen children, twelve of whom were born on the "underground," that is, while the church was being prosecuted for its practice of polygamy.

Nibley became involved in many business ventures during his life, most of which proved to be very successful. However, the heart of his wealth was centered in the lumber industry. Nibley had established himself as a successful lumber man during the 1870s and 1880s in northern Utah and southern Idaho. But his real rise to wealth came when he and industrialist David Eccles combined their talents and organized the Oregon Lumber Company in 1889. This company became one of the largest lumber companies in the Pacific Northwest and made both men multimillionaires. Nibley's other major business interests included railroads, banking, insurance, and the sugar beet industry.

Nibley was called to be the Presiding Bishop of the Mormon Church in 1907. He held that position for the next eighteen years. During his time the Mormon Church did away with tithing scrip, and he placed the church on a strict cash payment basis. He also was influential in getting the church to build Hotel Utah. In 1925 he was called to be the Second Counselor to Heber J. Grant in the First Presidency of the LDS Church.

Nibley was a well-known philanthropist. Much of his philanthropy was accomplished quietly; however, one of his public contributions was the donation of Wandamere Park, now Nibley Park Golf Course, to Salt Lake City as a Christmas present in 1921.

Charles Nibley died in Salt Lake City on 11 December 1931 at the age of eighty-two.

Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994.