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Salt Lake City - History

Salt Lake City History

The state of Utah gets its name from the nomadic Ute tribe who, along with the Paiute and Shoshone peoples, lived in the Great Basin desert. Although the first Europeans arrived in the area in 1776, the city's history is linked inextricably with the Latter-Day Saints, better known as Mormons. On 24 July 1847, Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young founded Salt Lake City as a communitarian society, doing their best to transform the harsh environment into flourishing farms. In 1848, crops were damaged by severe frost, followed by an almost-Biblical plague of crickets. Despite the name, California gull remains Utah's state bird, commemorating the huge flock of gulls that flew in, ate the crickets and saved the crops.

While the Latter-Day Saints had arrived on their own westward trail (paralleling but avoiding the Wild West's famous Oregon Trail), the ensuing gold rush did much to boost the town's fortunes. By the second half of the ninteenth century, Salt Lake City had shed its persecution-fleeing, self-imposed isolation, although its battles with the rest of the country continued. The territory had applied six times for statehood from 1856, but - due to federal laws prohibiting polygamy - their first five applications were rejected; in the 1880s alone, more than 1000 men were jailed for the offence. In 1890, however, the church's president announced that God had decreed that Mormons should abide by US law. Polygamy was officially discontinued and Utah's sixth application for statehood was accepted in 1896.

The economy of the city became revitalized with WWII, and mining and industry blossomed. When prices and production of minerals fell, a new economic mainstay was found: tourism and related industries, which still play a vital part in Utah's economy. New companies involved with computer development and biomedicine are becoming more important.

To this day, Salt Lake City is dominated by a Mormon elite. Their involvement in civic affairs stretches to every corner of the social fabric. With the scandal that surrounded Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics now mostly in the past, hopes are high that by hosting the Olympics the city's international stature will increase.

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