The State of Utah

AT A GLANCE

Name: Utah was named for the Ute tribe. Ute means “higher up.”
Nickname: Beehive State
Capital: Salt Lake City
Size: 84,904 sq. mi. (219,902 sq km)
Population: 2,995,919 (2015 est)
Statehood: Utah became the 45th state on January 4, 1896.
Electoral votes: 5 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 3 (until 2016)
State tree: blue spruce
State flower: sego lily
State animal: Rocky Mountain elk
Highest point: Kings Peak, 13,528 ft. (4,123 m)

Utah map

THE PLACE

Utah is a mountainous western state. Two of its mountain ranges, the Uinta and Wasatch, are part of the Rocky Mountain chain. The Uinta Range, which extends from Colorado to Salt Lake City, is the only range in the Rockies to run from east to west. This range has many lakes and canyons that were carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. Canyons in the Wasatch Range provide water to many of Utah’s cities.

Western Utah is part of a dry basin that extends through several states. The area includes small mountain ranges and the Great Salt Lake, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. Southwest Utah is desert, although the southwestern region is the lowest, most fertile part of Utah. Southern and eastern Utah has deep canyons and high plateaus. The Abajo and La Sal Mountains cover southeastern Utah where it meets Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

A huge freshwater lake, which scientists call Lake Bonneville, once covered the area of present-day Utah. The lake gradually shrank over time, leaving isolated lakes and ponds, including the Great Salt Lake.

Utah’s climate is generally dry, and onethird of its land is desert. Summers can be hot, and winters are usually not snowy, except in the northeastern mountains. The Colorado River, the largest in Utah, provides energy and water to irrigate farms in drier parts of Utah. Utah has valuable deposits of coal, uranium, oil, and natural gas, as well as copper, gold, silver, and magnesium.

Facts and Firsts

  • Utah’s mountain peaks, with an average height of 11,222 feet (3,420 m), are the highest in the United States.
  • Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the state’s most famous natural feature, has an area of about 1,600 square miles (4,200 sq km), with an average depth of 13 feet (4 m).
  • The first railroad to cross the entire United States was completed at Promontory in 1869, when the Union Pacific Railroad (being built from the East Coast) met the Central Pacific Railroad (being built from the West Coast).
  • The first department store in the United States, Zions Co-operative Mercantile Institution, was established in Utah in the late 1800s.
  • Approximately 70 percent of Utah residents are Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  • Utah has the highest literacy rate (94%) of any state.

THE PAST

Utah was once home to a Native American group known as the Anasazi, who built homes, apartment-like structures, and even cities in the rocky cliffs of Utah and other states. When the first Spanish explorers arrived in 1765 from Mexico, they found several Native American tribes living in the area of Utah. The Spanish were not interested in settling in Utah, but in 1811, other settlers came to Utah to trade furs. By 1830, American travelers were crossing Utah to journey from New Mexico to California.

Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) were Utah’s first permanent white settlers. Their leader, Brigham Young, led the religious group to the Great Salt Lake in 1847 to avoid persecution in the East. At the time, Utah belonged to Mexico, but the United States attained the region during the Mexican War, which ended in 1848.

Mormons from all over the world immigrated to Utah and built farms, despite Native American protests. The population grew, and Utah asked to be admitted to the Union. Congress, however, refused to allow Utah to become a state, in part because of the Mormon practice of polygamy (one man having more than one wife).

In October 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph line was completed when cable from the East met cable from the West in Salt Lake City. Then, in 1863, gold and silver were discovered. A transcontinental railroad, completed in Utah less than a decade later, allowed gold, silver, and other items to be more easily shipped from the area. Utah adopted a new constitution that outlawed polygamy and was finally admitted as a state of the Union in 1896.

The expansion of Utah’s railroads encouraged the growth of agricultural industries such as cattle ranching and farming, which required good transportation. The introduction of new mining techniques improved Utah’s copper yield, and the state’s mines supplied metals to the Allies during World War II. Several military bases were built in Utah, which became a center of missile and steel production.

Tourism became important to Utah’s economy as mountain ski resorts attracted more visitors during the 1950s and 1960s. Large population growth during the 1970s and 1980s, however, strained Utah’s economic and environmental resources, and the state struggled to fund public schools and limit industrial expansion into undeveloped wilderness areas.

THE PRESENT

The federal government owns two-thirds of Utah’s land, and several military bases, including Hill Air Force Base, are located in Utah. Private industry has expanded since World War II, and today Utah produces rocket propulsion systems for spacecraft and weapons, air bags for automobiles, beverages, dairy products, baked goods, metal products such as sheet metal, and machinery.

Utah’s coal mining industry thrives, especially when shortages of oil from foreign countries affect the U.S. energy supply. Utah’s second-most valuable mineral is copper, which is mined near Salt Lake City.

New irrigation techniques make it possible for farmers to raise cattle and sheep and grow hay, wheat, apples, peaches, pears, barley, and corn in parts of Utah that used to be desert. These irrigation techniques have prompted debate, however, because many Utah residents worry that irrigation of desert land puts a strain on Utah’s natural ecological system. Conservationists are concerned about the opening of more land to industrial and agricultural development.

Born in Utah

  • Maude Adams, actress
  • Roseanne (Barr), actress
  • Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker), outlaw
  • Philo Farnsworth, inventor
  • Harvey Fletcher, physicist
  • John Gilbert, actor
  • J. Willard Marriott, restaurant and hotel chain founder
  • Merlin Olson, athlete and announcer
  • Donny Osmond, singer and actor
  • Marie Osmond, singer and actress
  • Ivy Baker Priest, U.S. treasurer
  • Robert Walker, actor
  • James Woods, actor
  • Loretta (Gretchen) Young, actress