Utah Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The region that now forms the state of Utah was inhabited almost entirely by Native Americans as late as 1847, when Brigham Young led followers of the Mormon Church into the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Since that time, the state’s immigration has been has been colored by the powerful presence of the church, which has maintained an aggressive worldwide missionary program to find new converts, many of whom have come to Utah. The state has also attracted large numbers of American-born Mormons and has one of the most homogenous populations of any American state.

Prior to the arrival of Mormon pioneers in Great Salt Lake Valley, the Native American Ute nation dominated the region now known as Utah. Soon after the establishment of Salt Lake City in 1847, more than 70,000 Americans migrated to Utah. Most of these immigrants were Mormon followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The vast majority of these early settlers were white Americans from the eastern United States. However, as they were moving into the region and establishing new settlements along the Wasatch Mountains range, other new immigrants were also beginning to enter the region.UtahMormon immigrants;UtahUtahMormon immigrants;Utah[cat]STATES;Utah

Late Nineteenth Century Immigration

In 1850, only fifty African Americans were known to be living in Utah; half of them had come as slaves. In 1870, Italian immigrants;UtahItalian immigrants established a small community near Ogden, and an even smaller Chinese immigrants;UtahChinese community was beginning to develop in Rock Springs. Soon, however, a series of Anti-Chinese movement[antichinese movement];Utahanti-Chinese riots in Carbon County drove out most of the Chinese settlers, who were soon replaced by Japanese immigrants;UtahJapanese immigrants who were happy to take over jobs that become vacant.

The main impetus for foreign immigration into Utah was the Missionaries;Mormonwork of Mormon missionaries in other countries. Shortly after Joseph Smith organized the Mormon Church during the 1830’s, he began sending missionaries abroad to find new converts. From that time to the twenty-first century, the church has continued to maintain a strong missionary presence abroad. Early missionary efforts of the church focused on Canada, western Europe, and Australia, and the church assisted foreign converts who wished to come to Utah.

Twentieth Century Arrivals

The early twentieth century saw the beginnings of heavy industry in Utah with the establishment of large Coal industry;Utahcoal and salt mines throughout the state. The mines frequently hired immigrant labor as they proved to be both cost-effective and less likely to organize unions. By 1903, the Castle Gate Mine alone employed 356 Italians and 108 Austrians. Meanwhile, Greek immigrants;UtahGreek, Scandinavian immigrants;UtahScandinavian, and Russian immigrants;UtahRussian immigrants were beginning to settle in the state. They established small communities in the main urban centers of Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden.

Most immigrants coming to Utah sought land suitable for farming, while they followed the teachings of the Mormon Church. By the early twentieth century, Utah’s economy was centered on agriculture and the development of sustainable food crops for livestock. Many Japanese immigrants;UtahJapanese immigrants farmed, but others who could not afford to buy land worked on railroad construction. In 1920, more than 3,000 Japanese were living in Utah. By 1970, that figure had risen to almost 5,000.

By the early twenty-first century, Utah’s population had become more diverse, but 90 percent of the state’s residents were white. The large percentage of white residents was partly due to the high rate of natural increase among Mormons, whose church encourages early marriage and large families. A similar percentage of residents were born in the United States. Thanks in part to the Mormon Church’s past policy of excluding people of African descent from enjoying full membership, Utah’s African American population was very small, but Hispanics constituted about 8 percent of the state’s total population.UtahMormon immigrants;Utah

Further Reading
  • Alexander, Thomas G. Mormons and Gentiles: A History of Salt Lake City. Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing, 1984.
  • Mulder, William. Homeward to Zion: The Mormon Migration from Scandinavia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
  • Stegner, Wallace. The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
  • Stipanovich, Joseph. The South Slavs in Utah: A Social History. San Francisco: R&E Research Associates, 1975.

Chinese immigrants

Economic opportunities


History of immigration after 1891


Italian immigrants

Mormon immigrants

Pacific Islander immigrants


Categories: History