The Coon Chicken Inn and Utah’s Hidden History of Racism

By Chris Oregon

The Coon Chicken Inn was a fried chicken restaurant chain located in the Pacific Northwest and owned by Maxon Lester Graham and his wife Adelaide. The first Coon Chicken Inn was established in 1925 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Coon Chicken Inn was famously known for its racist “coon” caricature logo that was used to promote the authenticity of the southern-style food. At the entrance of the restaurant was a 12-foot “coon head.” Customers entered through the mouth, which had exaggerated large lips and teeth. This same entrance was then used for the other two locations that opened later. Despite protests against the racial slurs and racist caricatures the stores remained open until the late 1950s. Even though the restaurant was racist, the only complaint from the city was when it heard rumors that operators were serving alcohol. On March 11, 1927, The Salt Lake Telegram wrote about the trial that Graham went to for “conducting a disorderly house,” because officers had claimed that they found liquor on three of the restaurant’s tables. (“Graham Enters Not Guilty Plea”)

 

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Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Catherine Roth writes that the large “coon head” used for the entrance of the building was a gimmick to attract customers. (“The Coon Chicken Inn”) Graham also used the logo on postcards, newspaper advertisements, children’s fans, delivery cars, and matchboxes as promotion.

After gaining a lot of success, Graham later opened two more locations in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Each location had the “coon head” entrance that was used with the first location to attract customers. The restaurant not only provided food for its customers but entertainment as well. The Utah Chronicle mentioned that the restaurant offered dancing and talented local musicians to entertain customers. (“What We’ll Do”) The Coon Chicken Inn was popular among University of Utah students; the Interfraternity Council planned a stag party for students and the restaurant was chosen to host its festivities. (“Greek Council”) Popular among University of Utah students, several fraternities chose to hold events such as banquets at the restaurant because it had a dance floor and live music for everyone to enjoy. (“The Town Chatter”) Variety magazine also mentioned in its April 7, 1937, issue that the Coon Chicken Inn was a great spot for out-of-state bands to work with local musicians, which helped attract customers.

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Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Despite being racist, the restaurant was very successful, opening a total of three locations in three different cities. After opening in Seattle in 1930, Graham was met with protests. That same year the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) and the African-American newspaper, the Northwest Enterprise, protested the opening of the restaurant and even threatened Graham “with a lawsuit for libel and defamation of race.” In response, Graham agreed to change his advertising styles by “removing the word ‘Coon’ from the restaurant’s delivery and also by repainting the ‘Coon head’ entrance to the restaurant.” Instead of the “coon head” being black he decided to paint the skin color blue to avoid further issues. Graham also canceled his order of 1,000 car tire covers to please the protesters and not get in legal trouble. In the end, Graham removed the “Coon head” from public view and decided to close the restaurant doors for good. (Roth, “The Coon Chicken Inn”)

Today, the original Coon Chicken Inn building is gone. Despite the restaurant being shut down, Coon Chicken Inn remains relevant today due to the collectibles being sold online as black memorabilia. In 2017, Cook’s Garage, a Texas restaurant, caused outrage when customers noticed a Coon Chicken Inn neon sign on its walls. After receiving so much backlash, the owner said the sign wasn’t there to offend anyone, but to display Americana history. (Robinson) Even though the restaurant has been closed since the 1950s, it is still making headlines to this day. It’s still a relevant topic due to its racism. The Coon Chicken Inn will forever be a part of Utah history.

Chris Oregon is a senior at the University of Utah. He is majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism and minoring in Spanish.

Sources

Graham Enters Not Guilty Plea,” Salt Lake Telegram, March 11, 1927, 2.

The Town Chatter,” Utah Chronicle, December 21, 1932, 2.

What We’ll Do,” Utah Chronicle, January 25, 1934, 2.

Greek Council Chooses Rulers,” Utah Chronicle, May 21, 1936, 1.

“Salt Lake City Sets Bands for Summer,” Variety, April 7, 1937, 50.

Advertisement, Coon Chicken Inn, Utah Chronicle, September 28, 1944, 4.

Roth, Catherine. “Coon Chicken Inn (Seattle),” HistoryLink.org, October 16, 2009.

Roth, Catherine. “The Coon Chicken Inn: North Seattle’s Beacon of Bigotry,” Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, University of Washington, 2009.

Robinson, Elliott. “The Coon Chicken Inn Lives,” CreativeTension.org, 2017.

Coon Chicken Inn: A Stain on Utah History

By Noelani Blueford

“Coon Chicken Inn: Nationally Famous, Coast to Coast.” That was the tagline used in advertisements for the restaurant chain, which could be found throughout the Pacific Northwest and originated in Salt Lake City, Utah. Opened by couple Adelaide Burt and Maxon Lester Graham in 1925, hungry patrons entered the restaurant through the red-lipped, white-toothed mouth of a 12-foot caricature of a winking black face wearing a porter’s cap. The chain even had a delivery fleet, wherein a car emblazoned with laughing minstrel faces would drive up to consumers homes, according to a January 2015 retrospective article by The Salt Lake Tribune. The restaurant saw great success.

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The restaurant advertised regularly in the Utah Chronicle.

A memoir written by a grandson of the original owners, which is available from the Jim Crow Museum of Memorabilia, describes Burt and Graham’s business practices as normal for the time. They had enjoyed fried chicken from a local business and decided to open a restaurant of their own serving the same food in Sugar House, which was then only a small suburb of the city. The famous logo was added to the storefront, eventually spreading to a large variety of other items nearly five years after the successful opening and growth of the business.

The “coon head” logo and memorabilia was a gimmick to attract customers, claims an article on the restaurant at BlackPast.org. The organization describes the logo as “[saturating] the restaurant’s interior…. Plates, forks, menus, and placemats featured the caricature, as did menu items such as the ‘Baby Coon Special’ and the ‘Coon Fried Steak.’” The logo additionally appeared on a variety of items such as “postcards, newspaper advertisements, matchboxes, children’s fans, and spare tire covers.” African-American communities and organizations near the Seattle location quickly took action against the restaurant. The NAACP and African American newspaper The Northwest Enterprise threatened to take legal action against Graham for libel and defamation of race, pushing for a change in advertising. There was no reactionary movement at the Salt Lake City location, but at the time the 681 Black citizens of Salt Lake City who might take issue with the business comprised only .5 percent of the populace, as recorded in the 1930 census.

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Ads like this appeared in the Utah Chronicle.

Utah’s Coon Chicken Inn closed in 1957, the last location of the chain to close by nearly a decade, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor Department at the University of Washington argues that the presence of this restaurant more than a century after the height of the minstrel era underscores the lasting power of this caricature and the underlying stigmas about race and Black people that continue to exist in the Pacific Northwest.

In Utah, racial tensions were relatively unspoken but persisted in force. The installment of Black troops at Fort Douglas in 1896 and 1899 was met by strong protest from the media and local government, according to “Blacks and the Military In American History” by Jack D. Foner. In 1925, the same year that Coon Chicken Inn opened, a Black Utahn by the name of Robert Marshall was tortured and lynched to the cheers of a crowd in Price. A thousand Utahns petitioned with partial success in 1939 to restrict black citizens to a designated neighborhood away from the city center, and blacks were refused full access to local amusement park Lagoon until the late 1940s, reports Utah History To Go.

Advertisements for Coon Chicken Inn featuring minstrel art were posted in many issues of the Utah Chronicle in the early 20th century; today they provide a rare and important look into an obscured facet of the area’s culture. In its discussion of Coon Chicken Inn’s novelties and other minstrel products, “African American visual representation: from repression to resistance” by Paul Von Blum perhaps sums up the issue best: “All of these [advertising caricatures] were designed for a white population that rarely encountered contrary images of African American dignity. They were fully part of a racist visual culture, viewing such imagery as nothing more than humorous depictions of obvious racial truths. These racist pictures and objects confirmed what most white audiences already believed. Any suggestion that these posters, postcards, toys, figures, film clips, and other objects, had repressive political consequences would likely have led to puzzled or even incredulous responses.”

Noelani Blueford graduated in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism.

Sources

Advertisement, Coon Chicken Inn, Utah Chronicle, January 18, 1940, 4.

Advertisement, Coon Chicken Inn, Utah Chronicle, January 25, 1940, 4.

Coleman, Ronald G. “Blacks in Utah History: An Unknown Legacy,” Utah History To Go.

Foner, Jack D. Blacks and the Military in American History. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974.

Gibson, Campbell and Kay Jung. “Historical Census Statistics On Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For Large Cities And Other Urban Places In The United States,” U.S. Census Bureau Population Division (February 2005): 106.

Macfarland, Sheena. “Whatever happened to … the chicken restaurant with the racially charged name?” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 13, 2015.

Roth, Catherine. “Coon Chicken Inn,” BlackPast.org.

Roth, Catherine. “The Coon Chicken Inn: North Seattle’s Beacon of Bigotry.” The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project at the University of Washington.

Von Blum, Paul. “African American Visual Representation: From Repression to Resistance,” Journal of Pan African Studies 5 no. 8 (December 2012): 41.

The History of Coon Chicken Inn.” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University.

The Clawsons’ Shop and Their Community

By Porter L. Anderson

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 2.30.10 PMThe Clara M. Clawson Shop was a clothing store for women located at 57 S. Main Street in Salt Lake City. Mrs. Clawson’s advertisements are found all throughout magazines and newspapers during the late 1930s, the 1940s and into the 1950s. The store was the passion project of Clara and was managed by her husband Seldon Clawson after it began to be recognized as a high-end clothing shop in Salt Lake City.

The Clawsons took out a number of advertisements during this time throughout different publications in the Utah Valley, including The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Chronicle. The advertisements really gave a sense of the individuals who ran the shop and their connection to the community.

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 2.27.57 PMIn a congratulatory ad published in the May 28, 1942, issue of the Utah Chronicle, the text states that “Mrs. Clara M. Clawson offers sincere congratulations to the graduates.” The couple tried to demonstrate they were there to help the graduates who needed them rather than trying to sell them anything. The ad gains more strength because everything around it is listing products that should be purchased, such as suit coats and new materials for schoolwork. This friendly congratulatory message is different from the surrounding ads and draws the reader of the newspaper into wondering who these people are and why their ads look so different.

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 2.30.01 PMThe Clawsons clearly made a consistent effort to make themselves known in the community as a friendly place. Published advertisements show that the couple was dedicated to the store that featured high-end clothing with a friendly, welcoming feel. Many of the ads are tailored to reach out to specific people during certain times. For example, an advertisement published in The Salt Lake Tribune around Mother’s Day in 1950 states that patrons should bring their mother into the store to pick out what she wants for her holiday gift. This is another subtle ad that invites a specific group into the store to meet those friendly individuals who are trying to curry favor with the community.

scan0030The Clawsons took out a number of advertisements around the 1930s to 1950s, each working to build their image as a “Mom and Pop” store dedicated to their community and creating a friendly presence. Many of the advertisements were written in a way to make their readers feel like they were welcome there, which could be a reason why the Clara Clawson Shop was open for more than 65 years even during times of war and economic downturn.

The Clawsons were very committed to helping their community, whether that was through Clara’s work as the treasurer of the Service Star Legion, a group for mothers in wartime, or Seldon’s work for the building of the Latter-day Saints church. The couple owned a business that they worked to build but they also loved their community. This was evident in their one-of-a-kind personal advertisements. The Clawsons are the type of people who cared and helped others, which was a huge benefit to their community, especially during WWII.

Porter L. Anderson is a senior at the University of Utah studying communication with an emphasis in journalism. He is very passionate about web content creation including writing articles for different online outlets as well as web design. Anderson hopes that he will be able to use the experience and education he has gained at the University to find a way to use online resources to help others.

Sources

Selden Irwin Clawson and Clara Isabella Morris Clawson,” FamilySearch, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Advertisement, Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1950, 3.

Advertisement, Salt Lake Tribune, February 26, 1945, 8.

Advertisement, Utah Chronicle, May 28, 1942, 3.

 

Spirit of the Beehive: Coon Chicken Inn an Unfortunate Utah Original

By Devon Alexander Brown

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Coon Chicken Inn logo. Image courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

When Brigham Young and a vanguard company of Latter-day Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 they knew they’d finally found their home in the Rockies. (Griffiths) And as their community in the desert quietly blossomed they declared it Deseret, a term for honeybee lifted from the Book of Mormon, and adopted the beehive as their state emblem. This simple emblem not only referenced their Christian roots, but it also symbolized a unified commitment to industriousness that has remained a hallmark of Utah’s culture. (Malouf)

In modern times that industrious spirit has led to a boom in the beehive state’s tech and creative sectors, but in 1925 it drove Maxon Lester Graham and his wife Adelaide Burt to create a fast-food restaurant legacy built on a foundation of racist imagery with a name to match: Coon Chicken Inn.

Utah, like much of America, has a complicated history with race. Much of the population is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has always allowed Blacks into its ranks although they’ve held a lower status. A demonstration of this fact is that three Black members of the church were present in the vanguard company of 1847, but they were used as servants The most controversial aspect of this attitude is that Black members — as well as suspected Black members according to a racial “one drop” policy — were denied priesthood privileges essential to the faith until the 1970s. (Reeve) Yet these complications reach far beyond faith. An attitude of separation trickled into Utah’s secular psyche as well, with Blacks receiving second-class treatment inside and outside of the church. While the creation of Coon Chicken Inn is perhaps the most blatant example of this attitude, it is not an isolated example.

To grasp the severity of the logo’s use, one must understand the racist history behind the “coon” caricature. The term came into prominence during 19th-century minstrel shows through a character named Zip Coon. As a part of his act, Zip Coon would act uppity with a braggart’s swagger while employing malapropisms in a nod to his lack of education. This would elicit laughter and intrigue while also reinforcing White supremacy and animosity toward Blacks. The slur itself became popular in the late 1800s after Black entertainer Ernest Hogan released a song called, “All Coons Look Alike to Me.” Subsequent derogatory imitation “coon songs” were released shortly after and remained popular until the 1920s. Eventually the “coon” caricature became a nostalgic device for certain northerners and southerners to rekindle revisionist memories of life in the American South. (Strausbaugh)

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Advertisement for Coon Chicken Inn. Utah Chronicle, February 1, 1940, p. 4.

The first Coon Chicken Inn opened in 1925 after the Grahams bought and renovated a small building in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Their take on southern fried chicken was a hit and by 1930 they opened two additional sites (in Washington and Oregon). To stir up additional business they incorporated the smiling blackface logo as they believed it would entice young families. The logo, an abrasive caricature with exaggerated lips, would reflect the owners’ racial disconnection, especially in Seattle and Portland where more Blacks were present.

Black residents did not accept the imagery, however, and Joseph Staton, a Black resident of Seattle, was arrested, booked, and fined $3 for cutting the caricature out of a Coon Chicken Inn spare tire cover. (The Seattle Times) Also, Clarence R. Anderson, a Black attorney, launched a two-year lawsuit against the inn with the NAACP, although Graham dodged the lawsuit by painting the Black porter’s face blue. (Northwest Enterprise) Nonetheless, the logo would later appear on paper products, plates, and menus that are now considered collectible. Eventually, 12-foot constructions of the logo would beckon patrons at the restaurants’ front doors.

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Coon Chicken Inn locations. Image courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Protests by angry Black citizens of Seattle and Portland would ultimately yield few changes to the franchise, but the locations finally closed in 1949. (Seattle Post Intelligencer) However, in December 1949, Graham opened G.I. Joe’s New Country Store in the same Seattle location and continued using the coon logo in advertisements that reached Salt Lake City. (Lake City Citizen) The Salt Lake City location remained open until 1957.

Undoubtedly, Coon Chicken Inn is an ugly reminder of the past, but an unnamed grandson of the Grahams has since written an essay about the restaurant’s legacy for the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. (McFarland) “I preface this essay by saying that I do not condone the ‘Jim Crow’ attitudes of the past. I and ALL of my siblings believe in full equality for all races, creeds, and skin colors. My grandparents were entrepreneurs engaging in what were normal business practices,” he penned in the essay. “They left behind artifacts, popularly called ‘Black Memorabilia,’ that serve as reminders that this particular part of history must never, and will never, be repeated.” (The History of Coon Chicken Inn)

Utahns of Salt Lake City must ensure this sentiment rings true.

Devon Alexander Brown is a senior at The University of Utah and is majoring in journalism. He is pursuing a career in writing and photojournalism and is primarily interested in art and culture. Devon is also interested in documentary films and the tiny house movement.

Sources

Sadie McIver, “Files Protest Against ‘Coon Chicken’ Advertisement,” Northwest Enterprise, July 16, 1931, 8.

Candace Black, “Chicken Inn Dodges Suit with Blue Paint,“ Northwest Enterprise, March 17, 1932, 6.

“Big Crowd — Little Profit,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, March 8, 1937.

“C. of C. Helps to End Dispute,“ The Seattle Times, March 18, 1937.

Advertisement for Coon Chicken Inn, Utah Chronicle, February 1, 1940, 4.

“Joe’s Country Store,” Lake City Citizen, December 8, 1949.

The History of Coon Chicken Inn.” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Ferris State University.

Strausbaugh, John. Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Reeve, W. Paul. Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

McFarland, Sheena. “Whatever happened to … the chicken restaurant with the racially charged name?” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 13, 2015.

Malouf, Mary Brown. “Behind the Beehive,” Salt Lake Magazine, May 2, 2016.

Griffiths, Casey Paul, et al. “The myth about Brigham Young’s ‘this is the place’ quote,” LDS Living, July 25, 2017.

Auerbach’s: The Department Store That Advertised Customer Service and Quality Products

By Diana Rubio

In May 1943, The Utah Chronicle featured ads from Auerbach’s Department Store, a family-owned business that gained name recognition in the Western United States. (Auerbach, end page)

In 1864, Jewish brothers Frederick H. Auerbach and Samuel H. Auerbach gave rise to what would become a 113-year legacy of quality products and services. (Rudd, 234) Auerbach’s was initially named “The People’s Store: Auerbach & Brothers” and began welcoming customers in downtown Salt Lake City after the Auerbach brothers came to an agreement with former LDS leader Brigham Young. (Williams)

The difference in culture the Auerbach’s introduced to the business landscape in Utah connected non-Mormons and Mormons. When the store first opened on Main Street, the south end, where Auerbach’s was located, became a hub for non-Mormon shoppers, whereas the north end was known for catering to Mormon shoppers. (Stone, Introduction)

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Interior of Auerbach’s department store in Salt Lake City. Image courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

Auerbach’s began as a small shop, but as time progressed the business gained popularity due to its merchandise and customer service that touched its customers. (Auerbach, end page) These two characteristics were not only experienced in the store, but also promoted in advertisements. It is due to Auerbach’s advertising efforts and positioning that the family business distinguished itself from other retailers. (Auerbach’s, Folder 5, 7)

“You can count on the fingers of one hand the stores in Utah that have had a continuous life of eighty years,” said Herbert S. Auerbach, one of the successors of the company. (Auerbach, end page)

When the company observed its eightieth anniversary, the celebration was a testament to the company’s integrity, customers service, and its progress, despite the changes in the political atmosphere. (Auerbach, end page) Auerbach’s advertisements positioned the store as a retailer that carried high-quality goods and provided retail prices for consumers with various budgets. (Auerbach’s, Folder 5)

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Auerbach’s store display in Salt Lake City. Image courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

The first advertisement spanned two inches and appeared in the issues of the Daily Telegraph and described the merchandise as “Staple and fancy.” The advertisements promoted the following merchandise: dry goods, shoes, groceries, notions, clothing, and home accessories. An example of how merchandise was initially promoted advertised blankets imported from California as “the finest quality … offered at little over original cost.” (Auerbach’s, Folder 5)

In an ad published by Goodwin’s Weekly, the ad expressed that Auerbach’s had gained confidence and courage from experiencing success over the years. Such accomplishments had encouraged the company to import 100,000 handkerchiefs for the holidays that were packaged with care. In addition to providing details about “the world’s greatest production of handkerchiefs,” the ad was a cordial invitation for customers to experience these handkerchiefs for themselves. At the bottom, the ad read, “We invite you to make yourself at home among these new handkerchiefs of ours.” (Auerbach’s, Folder 7)

While Auerbach’s advertisements focused on the quality of products, other advertisements highlighted customer service, such as an ad that featured a sketch of the Auerbach store in Salt Lake City. The ad promised to deliver products within five days. If not, customers could return the items in store. Another ad with the sketch of a woman wearing a hat guaranteed a free purchase once customers had made fifty-seven purchases. Exceptions to this offer included: groceries, meats, phonographs, candy, and patterns. (Auerbach’s, Folder 5)

The Auerbach’s company recognized it had built a reputable name over the years and believed the store had become an inspiration to Utah history. (Auerbach’s, Folder 7) Although Auerbach’s reached its end in 1977, it was a Salt Lake City landmark for over 100 years. (Williams) The company’s focus on service and merchandise are marketing tactics still used today by marketers who position companies to increase revenue and eventually build strong brands.

Diana Rubio is a senior at the University of Utah. She is majoring in communication with a focus in strategic communication.

Sources

Auerbach, Herbert S. Auerbach Co.: 80 years of service, 1864-1944. Salt Lake City, UT, 1944.

Advertisement, Auerbach’s Man’s Shop Advertisement, The Utah Chronicle, May 20, 1943, 6.

Rudd, Hynda. “Auerbach’s: One of the West’s Oldest Department Stores.” Western States Jewish History 11, no.3: 234-38.

Stone, Eileen Hallet. Auerbach’s: The Store that Performed What It Promises. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2018.

Various advertisements, Herbert S. Auerbach papers, Box 10, Folder 5, Special Collections and Archives, University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Various Advertisements, Herbert S. Auerbach papers, Box 16, Folder 7, Special Collections and Archives, University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Williams, Carter. “Auerbach’s to ZCMI: 4 historic Utah businesses that no longer exist,” ksl.com, November 16, 2017,

 

The Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, 1880-1890s

by EMMA FULLERTON

While Salt Lake City was developing, businessmen had a difficult time getting Eastern investors interested in the state. A group of these men wanted to build a reputation for Utah and help it become an attractive investment. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was interested in an independent economic system. As the settlement began to grow, non-Mormons began to settle in the valley and start their own companies. There was competition between the Mormons and non-Mormon business owners, or “gentiles,” as they were called, which resulted in a boycott against them.

During this time, mining and smelting were becoming popular and attracting other non-Mormon companies to develop in Utah. Groups started to form because of the success. One of these clubs, The Board of Trade, started as early as 1879 with Thomas R. Jones as president and William S. McCornik as treasurer. They worked to change the public image and show that there were healthy benefits of living in Utah. The LDS church started to feel the political pressure from their boycott of non-Mormon businesses.

Salt Lake City’s population continued to increase as the mining industry was evolving. In 1882, the president of the LDS church, John Taylor, had no choice but to abandon the boycott. (Woodward and Campbell) Mormon and non-Mormon businessmen “voiced concern that the city’s negative public image was hindering eastern investment in Utah’s resources.” (Hafen, 361)  McCornick, Patrick Lanahan, owner of The Salt Lake Tribune, and Mormon apostle Heber J. Grant joined together to form the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce in an effort to bring the community together for “business promotion purposes.” (Woodward and Campell, 18) With their motto, “No politics or religion in the Chamber,” they hoped to “revive trade, establish home industries, and attract capital and population to the territory. (Woodward and Campbell, 18)

Salt Lake Tribune reporter and historian O.N Malmquist wrote, “I think the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce was the first formal organization in Salt Lake in the territory of Utah, in which Mormons and gentiles got together and actively collaborated in common causes. And in that sense it was certainly one of the major instruments of the evolution from the ‘irrepressible conflict’ to the situation we have today.” (Woodward and Campbell, 19)

In the early years of the Chamber of Commerce, the chamber set aside $4,000 of its $10,000 budget in an effort to change the public image of Utah through advertising and marketing. One of the first efforts was The Exposition Palace Car. On June 6, 1888, a rail car left Salt Lake City with the words on both sides, “Utah Exposition Palace Car; The Resources of Salt Lake City, the Gem City of the Rocky Mountains; Free exhibit sent under the auspices of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.” (Woodard and Campbell, 19) It traveled 9,000 miles around the United States. A 96-page booklet written by the secretary, M.J. Forhan, called, “Salt Lake City; A sketch of Utah’s Wonderful Resources,” was distributed at stops around the country. This helped attract people and contributed to the economic development of the state. Shortly after the campaign, H.L.A Culmer wrote The Journal of Commerce, which spoke of the three-month trek to the East with the car. The end results of the campaign were fourteen tons of printed matter at a cost of $3,339.25 ($78,719.69 in 2009 dollars), which brought in thousands of new residents and got the Chamber recognition. (Inflation Calculator)

The Chamber was passionate about increasing the Utah population. It hired the Western Investment Company of Chicago to distribute 30,000 promotional pamphlets to over 200 cities in the East. (Woodward and Campbell) Also, as stated in the Journal of Commerce, the chamber placed ads in “100 of the country’s leading daily publications.”

Today, the Salt Lake Chamber represents 4,600 businesses statewide and “one in every three jobs in the Utah economy,” as stated on the Web site.  Also, it is Utah’s “largest business association and Utah’s Business Leader.” The Chamber recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary and released a history book called Common Ground, 100 years of the Salt Lake Chamber, by Don Woodard and Joel Campbell. The Chamber’s mission statement, as quoted on its site, is, “As Utah’s Business Leader, we stand as the voice of business, we support our member success, and we champion community prosperity.” The organization works with businesses such as American Express, Wells Fargo, Zion’s National Bank, Delta Air Lines, Questar  and many other firms.

Woodard and Campbell write, “Almost without exception, every major event and accomplishment in Salt Lake for the last 100 years has felt the influence of the Chamber. Whether it was the development of freeway routes, location of hospitals, distribution of welfare, building of the airport, securing the Utah Jazz, promotion of winter sports, or creating a business-friendly environment, it has been the Salt Lake Chamber leading the charge.” (Woodward and Campbell, 11)

Emma Fullerton is a communication major with an emphasis in public relations at the University of Utah.

Sources

Thomas K. Hafen, “City of Saints, City of Sinners: The Development of Salt Lake City As A Tourist Attraction 1869-1900,” The Western Historical Quarterly (Autumn 1997).

“Secretary’s Report,” Salt Lake Journal of Commerce (January 1891): 6.

The Inflation Calculator.

H.C.A. Culmer, “On the Utah Exposition Car,” Salt Lake Journal of Commerce (August 1888).

Don Woodward and Joel Campbell. Common Ground, 100 years of the Salt Lake Chamber. Alabama: Community Communications, 2003.