Utah as an Industrial Object-Lesson
THERE are lessons for the American people in the industrial system which evolved Utah from the arid soil of the desert. They speak eloquently of the possibilities of organized and associated man. They show how poor men may achieve prosperity with no tools but labor and land, and no capital save leadership. These are timely lessons for a period when population flows irresistibly to cities already perilously large, when the ranks of industry and professions are overcrowded, and when small tradesmen and small manufacturers are disappearing before the unequal competition of great stores and great factories. The economic institutions of Utah are the product of a new environment; for they have grown up in the heart of arid America, the remaining field for settlement in the United States, and the future home of a large population. The study of the Mormon achievement will reveal the industrial methods and social customs which have been developed in conformity with these conditions. Here we shall find the key to a future civilization whose influence will be reflected in the broader life of the nation.
Brigham Young was born in Vermont, and had lived in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Neither he nor his followers, before they came to Utah, had ever seen a country where the rainfall did not suffice for agriculture, nor ever read of one save in the Bible. But they quickly learned that they had staked their whole future upon a region which could not produce a spear of tame grass, an ear of corn, or a kernel of wheat without skillful irrigation, — an art of which they were utterly ignorant. The need of beginning a planting, however, was urgent and pressing, for their slender stock of provisions would not long protect them from starvation. It was this emergency which caused them to cut the first irrigation canal built by white men in the United States. Mormons are taught to believe that the suggestion of this work was a revelation to the head of the church. Other traditions ascribe it to the advice of friendly Indians, and to the shrewd intuition with which the leader had met the many strange trials he had encountered in the course of his adventurous pilgrimage. Whatever the source of the inspiration, he quickly set his men at work to divert the waters of City Creek through a rude ditch, and to prepare the ground for Utah ’s first farm. These crystal waters now furnish the domestic supply for a city of sixty thousand inhabitants. President Wilford Woodruff. the present head of the church, who was one of the party assigned to the work of digging the first canal, relates that when the water was turned out upon the desert, the soil was so hard that the point of a plough would scarcely penetrate it. There was also much white alkali on the surface. It was, therefore, with no absolute conviction of success that the pioneers planted the last of their stock of potatoes, and awaited the result of the experiment. But the crop prospered in spite of all obstacles, and demonstrated that a living could be wrung from the forbidding soil of the desert, when men should learn to adapt their industry to the strange conditions.
Such was the humble beginning of agriculture in arid America. The success of this desperate expedient to preserve the existence of a hunted people in the vast solitude has made Utah our great example of irrigation, and has given the Mormons their just claim as the pioneer irrigators of the United States. It is a distinction which they proudly treasure, and which their fellow citizens of the great West have always generously acknowledged. It was not, however, until they had survived other hardships, including the devastation of their first crop by swarms of crickets, that the hardy settlers were able to celebrate a genuine harvest-home and to feel sure of the future. Then began that long era of material prosperity which will never cease until the people depart from the industrial system established by Brigham Young.
It is this industrial system which makes the Mormons well worthy of study at this time. Nothing just like it exists elsewhere upon any considerable scale, yet its leading principles are certainly capable of general application. Mormons regard the system, together with all their blessings, as a direct revelation of God. But when it is studied in connection with Mormon colonization, it is plain that the system was born of the necessities of the place and time, — that it is the legitimate result of the peculiar environment of the arid region. The forces that have made the civilization of tali will make the civilization of western America. It is in this view of the matter that we shall find our justification for a careful study of the Mormon structure of industry and society.
The economic life of Utah is founded on the general ownership of land. Speaking broadly, all are proprietors, none are tenants. Land monopoly was discountenanced from the beginning. All were encouraged to take so much land as they could apply to a beneficial purpose. None were permitted to secure land merely to hold it out of use for speculation. The corner-stone of the system was industrialism,— the theory that all should work for what they are to have, and that all should have what they have worked for. In order to realize this result, it was necessary that each family should own as much land as it could use to advantage, and no more. The adoption of this principle was plainly due to the peculiar conditions which the leader saw about him. He instantly realized that value resided in the water rather than in the land; that there was much more land than water ; that water could be conserved and distributed only at great expense. If he had settled in the Red River Valley of Dakota, for instance, it is entirely improbable that he would have set such severe limitations upon the amount of land which individuals should take. In that case, he would perhaps have thought it well for his people to take all the land they could possibly obtain under the law, and thus enjoy large speculative possibilities. But if he had pursued this policy in Utah, he could not have accommodated the thousands whom he expected to follow him in the early future. lie thus found it necessary to restrict the amount of land which each family should acquire, suiting it to their actual needs. He came from a country which had been settled in farms ranging from two hundred to four hundred acres in size. The reduction in the farm unit which he now proposed must have seemed nothing less than startling to his followers. It is plain that, in proposing such an innovation, he not only comprehended the social necessities of the situation, but anticipated the possibilities of intensive agriculture by means of irrigation.
The first settlement which he planned was, of course, Salt Lake City and its neighborhood. This became the model of all future settlements. It was laid out in such a way as to secure an equitable division of land values among all the inhabitants. The city blocks consist of ten acres each, divided into eight lots of one and a quarter acres : these lots were assigned to professional and business men. Next, there was a tier of five-acre lots : these were assigned to mechanics. Then there were tiers of ten-acre and twenty-acre lots: these went to farmers, according to the size of their families. Under this arrangement every colonist was a small landed proprietor, owning a certain amount of irrigated soil from which he could readily produce the necessities of life. 1 he division of land values was singularly even, for what one man lacked in area of his possessions he gained in location. The small lots were close to the business centre. As the place grew, in course of years, from an emigrant’s camp to a populous city, with paved streets, domestic water, electric lights and railways, the inevitable rise in values was distributed very evenly. Not a single family or individual failed to share in the great fund of unearned increment which arose from increasing population and growing public improvements. This principle of general land ownership, of careful division according to location, and of differing needs of various classes has been followed throughout the Mormon settlements of Utah and surrounding States, and is being duplicated to-day in the latest colonies among the Uintah Mountains.
It is important to note that the Mormon land system rested upon individual proprietorship. There never was any attempt at community ownership. The unit of the State was the family and the home. But the moment we pass from the sphere of individual labor we encounter another principle, which has always been applied, though not always by the same methods, to public utilities. This is the principle of public ownership and control. If the Mormon leaders had desired to organize their industrial life in a way to make large private fortunes for themselves, no single item in the long list of Utah’s natural resources would have offered a better chance for speculation than the water-supply. It was perfectly feasible, under the law, for private individuals or companies to appropriate the waters, construct canals, sell water-rights, and collect an annual rental. By adopting this method, which prevails widely in other Western States, they could have laid every field, orchard, and garden, every individual and family, under tribute to them and their descendants forever. Neither in law nor in practice is it any more a moral and economic wrong privately to appropriate and hold against the public the natural wealth of the streams than it is to do the same tiling with the natural wealth of the mineral belts on government land. Probably the Mormons owed their escape from the misfortune of private irrigation works mainly to the fact that this feature of their institutions was established at a time when none of their people possessed sufficient private capital to engage in costly enterprises. They started upon a basis of equality, for they were equally poor. They could buy water-rights only with their labor. This labor they applied in cooperation, and canal stock was issued to each man in proportion to the amount of work he had contributed to the construction. Bins, in turn, was determined by the amount of land lie owned, the owner of twenty acres doing just twice as much work as the owner of ten. Here we see the influence of aridity not only favoring, but compelling the adoption of the principle of associative enterprise. As in Holland men found it necessary to combine their labor in order to reclaim the land i rom the sea, so in Utah they did the same in order to reclaim the land from the desert. In both instances, this fundamental necessity of cooperation and organization at the beginning became the most powerful influence in shaping industrial habits and social customs, and in forming the character of institutions.
Brigham Young had made twenty acres the maximum size of farms in the Salt Lake settlement. He now proceeded to lay down a philosophy very different from that which prevailed on the large farms of the wheat and corn country whence he came. He urged that each family should realize the neatest possible approach to absolute industrial independence within the boundaries of its own small farm. His sermons in the Tabernacle dealt less in theology than in worldly common sense. The result is an agricultural system peculiar to Utah. Just as we have the cotton belt in Texas, the corn belt in Nebraska, the wheat belt in Dakota, and the orange district in California, so in Utah we have the land of the diversified farm. This is the first and one of the most precious fruits of the industrialism which had been so deeply rooted in the plan of universal land ownership. Much of the misfortune which the settlers of the Mississippi Valley have endured during the last decade is due to the fact that their industrial system was founded on speculation. They acquired large farms because they hoped to get rich out of the rise in land. They engaged in the production of single crops because they were gambling on the hope of great prices for these staples. They mortgaged their homesteads to make costly improvements because they had the utmost faith in future high prices for the land and its product. It is very easy to comprehend the virtues of Utah industrialism when we make use of a Texas cotton plantation or a Dakota wheat farm for comparison. In the one case we see the little unmortgaged farm, its crops insured by irrigation, systematically producing the variety of things required for the family consumption. A generous living is within the control of the proprietor of such a home. In the other case we see the single crop exposed to the mercy of the weather and the markets, its owner employing many hired hands, and going to the town to buy with cash nearly all that is necessary to feed his family and laborers. The Utah system was clearly the outgrowth of the peculiar conditions with which the Mormons dealt. They were so far removed from all centres of production as to make self-sufficiency an imperative condition of existence. Hence they were taught the gospel of industrial independence in its purest and most primitive terms. Ami self-sufficiency is the most striking characteristic of Mormon civilization to-day. Wars and panics have swept the country since the Mormon pioneers built their homes in Salt Lake A alley, but they and theirs have not gone hungry for a day. Nor need they do so while water runs downhill and the earth yields its increase.
The conquest ot Utah began with the establishment of agriculture, which is everywhere the foundation of civilization. Brigham Young realized, as the American people may well do to-day, that there can be no prosperity when agriculture languishes. He realized that whatever the Mormon people might have in the future — whatever of factories, stores, and banks, whatever of churches, temples, and tabernacles — must come primarily from the surplus profits of the farmer. As soon as his people had been supplied with food and shelter, he turned his attention to the development of broader industrial life. Workshops, stores, and banks were necessary to furnish facilities for manufacture, distribution. and exchange. All these enterprises were undertaken in a coöperative way, under the familiar form of the joint stock company. Those who were unwilling to engage in them upon these terms generally left the church and set up for themselves. At the beginning there was no capital for such undertakings except the capital which resided in every man’s land and labor, — no wealth but the common wealth. As all had started on a basis of equality, so all were given an equal chance to participate in the new industrial, mercantile, and banking enterprises of the Territory. When factory or a store was to be started, subscription papers were circulated, and everybody was urged to take some of the stock. Payments were made sometimes in cash, more often in products, not infrequently in labor. Of one thing there has never been a scarcity in Utah : this is the chance to work. Labor has always been exchangeable there for other commodities, including bank and mercantile stock ; otherwise it would not have been possible to secure the wide distribution of these stocks which now exists.
In the early years the industries were of a crude sort. Everything had to be hauled in ox - teams over a thousand miles of deserts, plains, and mountains. The people used almost no money in their daily transactions. As a medium of exchange they had printed slips of paper known as “ tithing-house scrip.”This answered the purpose of exchange money, while the prices of commodities were regulated by the standard of values which prevailed elsewhere. While the local scrip did very well for all home purposes, it did not enable the people to purchase the supplies of machinery which they needed from abroad. The process of equipping their factories was therefore necessarily slow, but they rapidly developed an army of skilled artisans, which was constantly augmented by immigration. But even without assistance from the great world which lay so far beyond the borders of their own valleys, marvelous progress was achieved in the arts and industries. Brigham Young was strenuously opposed to the development of the mines by his people, believing that what they might gain in wealth from that source would be much more than offset by the demoralization which would come to his industrial forces with the rise of the speculative spirit. Above all other virtues he placed that of sober industry, earning its bread in the sweat of men’s faces. That the mines would some day be worked by Gentiles he had no doubt, and he rightly calculated that his own people would enjoy more prosperity by feeding the miners than by working the mines. Nevertheless, a few of the many millions afterwards taken from the mountains around Salt Lake would have facilitated the growth and equipment of the Mormon industries immensely during the early years. Time and patience accomplished in the end all that an abundance of original capital might have done, — perhaps more. Nearly all the industries essential to a complex and symmetrical business economy have been established for many years. Every important settlement has its coöperative store and bank. From the great beet-sugar factory at Lehi down to the smallest mercantile enterprise in the smallest hamlet, the business is owned by a multitude of stockholders. The capital represents the surplus profits of the many. The system bears no likeness to Socialism. Nothing is owned by virtue of citizenship or of membership in the church. No one owns a dollar s worth of stock who has not earned and paid for it. The system is nothing but the joint stock company with what may be called a generous and friendly interpretation. I bat is to say, it is really desired that everybody shall have an interest, and that all shall share the benefits. To endeavor to “ corner” the stock for the benefit of a favored few would be considered unpopular, if not immoral. It should not be understood, by any means, that all have an equal ownership in these various enterprises, for the Mormon system has not resulted in making men equally successful. All have had an equal chance, however, and the weak have been watched over and assisted by the strong. Indeed, this is one of the few good things to be credited to the exercise of church authority in secular affairs.
It, would be quite impracticable to attempt to follow the history of any considerable number of the many coöperative enterprises of Utah. Nor are figures available for a satisfactory generalization of results. But the whole system is typified in the experience of one monumental enterprise, — Zion’s Coöperative Mercantile Institution. This great house is, in a sense, the mother and the model of all the Mormon stores in Utah and surrounding States. I quote from a letter of Mr. Thomas G. Webber, the successful superintendent of “ Z. C. M. I.,” as it is familiarly called : —
“ The institution was organized October 16, 1868 ; commenced business March 1, 1869; and was incorporated for twenty-five years from October 5, 1870, and the capital then was $220,000. It was reincorporated for fifty years September 30, 1895, with a capital stock of $1,077,000. During the life of our first incorporation period we have sold $76,352,686 worth of merchandise, and paid to the railroad and express companies for freight $6,908,630. We have paid out in cash dividends $1,990,943.55, and in stock dividends $414,944.77. During the panic in 1873, for prudential reasons, we passed our dividends, and continued to do so until 1877, but during the whole of the period we have been in business, some twentyseven years, we have paid to our stockholders an average dividend of nine and one third per cent for each and every year, or two hundred and forty-three per cent in all : $1000 invested in our capital stock on the first of March, 1869, at the end of September, 1895, when our incorporation ran out, had accumulated to $2014.30 ; and in addition to this we have paid upon this $1000 in cash dividends the sum of $4218.05. We have turned out in our manufacturing departments boots and shoes to the value of $2,053,294.43, and in our duck clothing and shirt factory upwards of $80,000 worth. Last year (1895) it was an off year with our manufacturing departments, but we turned out 75,400 pairs of boots and shoes, and 15,648 dozen overalls, shirts, etc.”
This is the history of Utah’s largest coöperative undertaking. It is a history which no friend of coöperative effort will blush to read, for it proves that a great business can be as successfully administered in the interest of the many as in the interest of a few. The latest and the largest Mormon industrial enterprise is the beet-sugar factory, owned by seven hundred stockholders, which in 1895 produced considerably more than seven hundred million pounds of sugar, and paid a cash dividend of ten per cent. It also furnished a profitable market for the products of many irrigated fields. While the most satisfactory results of cooperative enterprise have been obtained in the last two decades, much was achieved in the early days. Even in 1850, when Salt Lake Valley had been settled less than three years, t he industrial products amounted to only a little less than three hundred thousand dollars. Ten years later they had mounted nearly to the million mark, and in 1870 they considerably exceeded two and a quarter millions. In 1895 the total was close to six millions. The growth of these hard-won industries has naturally fostered a feeling of intense loyalty to home products.
Let us look now at the broader results of the Mormon labor in the wilderness. I have asked the church historian, Mr. A. Milton Musser, to make a careful estimate of the financial results which may fairly be credited to the irrigation industry in Utah. It must be remembered that the Mormons began in poverty, having almost nothing to invest except the labor of their hands and brains. Hence, all they have expended in a period of nearly fifty years came primarily from the soil. In responding to my request, Mr. Musser communicated with church leaders throughout the State, and compiled the results of his correspondence with the utmost care. As during most of the period covered the church was practically the state, he has included the cost of schools, roads, bridges, Indian wars, and the sustenance of the poor, as well as the cost of the purely religious and commercial enterprises. He has made a careful computation of the expense involved in establishing ten thousand farms and the cost of living for the entire people. He has very properly included large sums wasted by early experiments in making iron, sugar, paper, nails, leather, and cotton. An interesting item is that which records the expenditure of three million dollars for “defense against anti-polygamy legislation believed to be unconstitutional.”The expenditure of eight million dollars in assisting poor immigrants throws a strong light on the wonderfully successful methods of colonization. The historian’s statement is very comprehensive, and comes with the indorsement of the highest church authorities. It accounts for a total expenditure of nearly five hundred and sixty-three millions, all of which, excepting twenty millions credited to “ personal property brought into Utah by immigrants,” was wrung from arid soil by the patient labor of an industrious people.
In a private letter accompanying these statistics, Mr. Musser directed attention to the fact that upon this showing each Mormon farmer enjoyed an average income of four hundred and eighty-two dollars above the cost of living for each of the more than forty years which the statement covers. This is a considerably higher return than the gross amount averaged by wage-earners in the United States. To my mind, the statement seems to confirm the impression of a vast material achievement which comes to any person upon visiting Utah and looking about him. For the present purpose, the precise statistical facts are of less consequence than the economic principles which have produced what everybody acknowledges to be a very wonderful result. These principles are as follows : —
General land ownership, limited to the amount which families and individuals could apply to a useful purpose.
Self-sufficiency in agriculture, aiming at the complete economic independence of the people, individually and collectively.
The public ownership of public utilities, such as water for irrigation and domestic uses.
The coöperative, or associative, ownership and administration of stores, factories, and banks through the medium of the joint stock company.
These are the underlying principles of the Mormon commonwealth. They are vindicated by the successful experience of the last half-century. Nowhere else do so large a percentage of the people own their homes free from incumbrance. Nowhere else has labor received so fair a share of what it has created. Nowhere else has the common prosperity been reared upon firmer foundations. Nowhere else are institutions more firmly buttressed, or more capable of resisting violent economic revolutions. The thunder-cloud which passed over the land in 1893, leaving a path of commercial ruin from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was powerless to close the door of a single Mormon store, factory, or bank. Strong in prosperity, the coöperative industrial and commercial system stood immovable in the hour of widespread disaster. The solvency of these industries is scarcely more striking than the solvency of the farmers from whom they draw their strength. No other governor, whether in the West or in the East, is able to say what the Honorable Heber M. Wells said, in assuming the chief magistracy of the new State in January, 1896: “ We have in Utah 19,916 farms, and 17,684 of them are absolutely free of incumbrance.” A higher percentage in school attendance and a lower percentage of illiterates, even, than in the State of Massachusetts, is another of Utah’s proud records.
It would be unfair to leave the Mormon industrial system without considering the strong and often bitter criticisms which have been passed upon it. Many visitors and many resident Gentiles either have seen no virtues in the system, or have believed that the evils outweigh the virtues. The Reverend Joseph Cook summed up the whole case against the Mormon leaders and the system of industry they established in a brilliant phrase of seven words. Standing on Brigham Street in Salt Lake City, and gazing at the famous Eagle Gate, with its figure of an eagle perched upon a beehive, he exclaimed. “ A fit emblem, — rapacity preying upon industry.” It has been charged that the Mormon workers were the slaves of a tyrannical hierarchy, which ruthlessly absorbed the profits of their patient industry, and applied them, in a proportion which no man could fathom, to church purposes and private bank accounts. The single item of solid evidence which can be quoted to sustain the charge of plunder is the tithing system, under which all members of the church pay one tenth of their income into the revenues of the organization. There never has been any secret about this. Tithing houses and tithing officers exist throughout the Mormon dominions, and all church members in good standing pay the assessment of ten per cent regularly. Many of them pay in cash, and many in products of farms or shops. When they can pay in neither cash nor products, they contribute one tenth of their labor, and it is largely in this manner that the beautiful temples have been built. If Mormons are willing to pay tithings, either as a tribute to their religion, or as a return for the material benefit they have received through their association with the church, it is difficult to understand why they have not a perfect right to do so. Ten per cent is, indeed, a severe tax. But until recent times this amount practically included all assessments for public purposes of a local character, as these were administered through the church.
It is common for those who belittle the value of the Mormon experience to declare that its success was wholly due to the element of religious fanaticism, and that such results would have been impossible without the wonderful church organization. From this widely accepted conclusion 1 emphatically dissent. To my mind it seems perfectly plain that it was not the church which sustained the industrial system, but the industrial system which sustained the church. Brigham Young won the undying affection and obedience of his followers, not because he taught them how to pray, but because he taught them how to work and to live. He survives in their memories to-day, not as the prophet of religion, but as the wonderful organizer of prosperity. To the outside world, also, his true interest consists, not in his character as ecclesiastical leader and seer, but in that of captain of industry and architect of the commonwealth.
In studying Brigham Young, I have not sought to know the man as he lives in Mormon literature, with a glowing religious halo about his eminently businesslike brow. I have sought rather to find him through conversations with some of his favorite captains, and through the letters he wrote them when they were engaged in perilous missions to wild districts in the West. None of these men has told me of any striking religions thought which he uttered from the pulpit, but all have said that he insisted that it always paid to plough deep and plant alfalfa. They have related with especial pride their talks with “ the president “ at evening camp-fires, when he would plan, with wonderful accuracy, irrigation canals and village sites to be made in connection with the conquest of some new valley they had explored. The plans which he traced on the ground with his cane by the firelight generally anticipated very closely the later results of surveys. His letters to these captains were full of instructions about provisions, coming emigrant parties, and the treatment of the Indians. They always closed with a devout reference to divine Providence, but the underlying spirit was that of the sturdy industrial chieftain aiming at the conquest of the waste places.
This man’s dream was of empire. In every fibre of his body, in every beat of his brain and heart, he was a materialist. All his buildings, like all his philosophies, were fashioned on strong and simple lines. They were made, not to look beautiful, but to serve useful purposes and to last long. That he used the power of the church relentlessly to accomplish his ends cannot be denied. But the church, however much it may have meant to others, was with him only one of the means, and not the great object of his ambition. His first act in Utah was to raise the American flag and proclaim himself governor of “ the State of Deseret,”—land of the working bee. To have made of the whole intermountain West one mighty nation, himself at the head of it, would have filled the real measure of his ambition.
It should not be inferred from what has been said of the industrial virtues of the Mormon people that there is no ground for criticism. On the contrary, the people have by no means realized their best possibilities. It is not in Utah that we find the best examples of intensive cultivation, the most advanced irrigation methods, or the highest social standards. We find the crudeness that might be expected in a country developed without much cash capital, at the hands of a rather simple and unimaginative people. In the larger cities, such as Salt Lake and Ogden, the best Eastern standards are fully realized, but in scores of small settlements, which constitute the real Utah of which I have been speaking, the case is different. Farms are frequently ill kept and untidy ; orchards are not generally guarded against common pests ; fruit is not nicely sorted, graded, and packed for market. These towns and homes might be beautiful, monuments to thrift and good taste. When they are not so. it is because the people lack taste rather than opportunity. They enjoy simple prosperity and take solid comfort in their village life, but do not crave finer things.
No study of the Utah of to-day would be worthy of the name which failed to take into account the influence exerted in recent years by the large infusion of Gentile population. The fact that Utah stands erect — a State among States — is very largely due to those who went there to make their homes and fight the church. Through many stormy years they waged a tireless war upon polygamy and church control of state affairs. Democrats and Republicans forgot their partisanship while they united in opposing forces which they deemed inimical to American institutions. When in 1890 Salt Lake City was finally won by the Liberals, the morning of a great day had dawned in Utah. This event portended the dissolution of the old church party, the division of the Mormons on national lines, the early realization of statehood, and, finally, the merging of Mormon and Gentile until they shall become indistinguishable parts of one great people. The rise of the Liberal power brought with it a wonderful era of modern improvement, accompanied by a magnificent municipal debt; for the Mormons bad applied to the affairs of their capital city the simple philosophy in vogue on their small irrigated farms. Neither in the city nor on the farms would they have anything that involved going into debt. The new schoolhouses, the city and county buildings, the sewerage system, the domestic waterplant, the modern street pavements of Utah asphalt, the electric lights and railways, — these are the landmarks of Gentile public spirit in the Salt Lake City of to-day. If the Mormon industrial system lias suffered somewhat by the shock, the effect is as nothing when compared with the vast moral and civic gain conferred by the new conditions.
William E. Smythe.