The balance between the LDS Church’s operation of its non-profit and for-profit endeavors has always come with both benefits and repercussions. Censure of the City Creek building project reignited this divisive topic as critics contended that more funds should be directed toward humanitarian pursuits and less towards financial ones. It’s an ongoing discussion layered with complexities as the church decides how best to generate the funds necessary to fulfill the mission of the church. The example of the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company is a micro study in the costs and benefits of for-profit ventures. Historian Matthew C. Godfrey is an expert on the church’s involvement in the sugar industry. In this episode, he discusses with Laura Harris Hales some of the challenges that face the church when it becomes involved in business.
The sugar business in Utah began in earnest in the late 1880s when there was interest on the part of some individuals to produce sugar from beets. Needing capital in order to finance the construction of a factory, they approached Wilford Woodruff and asked if the church could provide some funding.
Wilford Woodruff was already interested in getting the church involved in more businesses. And as he thought more about getting the church involved in the sugar industry, he said he received a revelation that it was the Lord’s will that the church become involved in the sugar business.
From that revelation, he met with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and he instructed several of them, including Heber J. Grant and Joseph F. Smith, to go out among Utah businessmen and raise money for the sugar factory. The apostles raised the necessary funds, and in 1889 the Utah Sugar Company was formed. The church didn’t have a financial interest in the company, but simply boosters for it. But as the 1890s wore on and as the company got into some financial difficulties, Wilford Woodruff, again believing that God wanted this industry established, got the church involved financially in the industry.
Woodruff’s interest in the business was two-fold: to provide the Saints with economic opportunities and allow the Saints to be self-sufficient in sugar. Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith both talked about the need to provide some labor opportunities for the Saints in the Great Basin. The labor could come as employees working in the factory to actually extract the sugar or as farmers growing the sugar beets for cash.
The fact that Wilford Woodruff said it was the mind and will of God that the church become involved in the sugar industry set it apart from other business ventures. It carried with it a level of commitment and compelled the church to seek for outside funding after the panic of 1893 to keep it afloat.
At that time, the Utah Sugar Company became tied to the eastern Sugar Trust, and the company ceased producing sugar only on a regional basis. Now, eastern businessmen were investing in something the church started because of a revelation. With outside investment, the Utah Sugar Company had to be very concerned about business practices so they could make a profit. Having received financial backing from the Sugar Trust, those involved in Utah Sugar expanded into other areas in Utah and into Idaho, leading to the formation in 1907 of the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company.
Utah–Idaho leaders wanted the company to make money and tried to keep costs down and prices to consumers up. But beet growers, most of whom were Mormon, wanted as much as they could get for their beets. This was no longer the mutual cooperative economy characterized by Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution; this was for-profit capitalism. That’s a huge transition from how the church had participated in businesses in the past.
Thomas Alexander referred to this time period as “Mormonism in Transition.” Social, political, and economic transitions were all occurring as polygamy ended, Utah became a state, and the church became involved in more solely for-profit enterprises. Economically, the church moved from cooperatives and from the mindset of where the church dominates everything in the economy to integration into a national economy where they’re influenced by national trends.
|The church was still in this mindset that, “We’re building up industry. We’re investing money in these things so that our people can have employment, and, therefore, we want to see it succeed so we’ll take a large role in it.” People on the national stage looked at that and said, “Wait a second. That can’t happen. You can’t have that kind of ecclesiastical influence over business interests. You can’t be that involved in business interests.”|
|This was a time when the United States, as a whole, was very sensitive about big business. The Progressive Era is noted for “trust-busting”—the dissolution of large monopolies under presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. All three leaders took measures to make sure there was not unfair competition in business, that large trusts and monopolies did not exist, and that fair competitive conditions prevailed in the United States. The church, and especially Utah–Idaho Sugar, began running afoul of these trends. The Progressive Movement and the efforts to break down big business come into play with Utah–Idaho Sugar because it is, essentially, a monopoly in the Great Basin over sugar.|
Listen in as researcher Matthew C. Godfrey shares how the church-owned Utah–Idaho Sugar Company avoided trust busting despite censure by the Federal Trade Commission and how a generation of young men grew up as “beetdiggers.”
About our Guest: Matthew C. Godfrey is a general editor and the managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers. He is also a member of the Church History Department Editorial Board. Matthew holds a PhD in American and public history from Washington State University. Before joining the project, he was president of Historical Research Associates, a historical and archaeological consulting firm headquartered in Missoula, Montana. He is the author of Religion, Politics, and Sugar: The Mormon Church, the Federal Government, and the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, 1907–1921 (2007), which was a co-winner of the Mormon History Association’s Smith-Pettit Award for Best First Book.
Transcript: Download PDF
LDS Perspectives Podcast
Episode 82: The LDS Church and the Sugar Industry with Matthew C. Godfrey
(Released May 23, 2018)
This is not a verbatim transcript.
Some grammar and wording has been modified for clarity.
|Laura H. Hales: This is Laura Harris Hales, and I’m here today with Matthew Godfrey to talk about mixing church and business.
Matthew C. Godfrey is the general editor and the managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers and a member of the Church History Department editorial board. Matthew holds a PhD in American and public history from Washington State University. Before joining the project, he was president of Historical Research Associates, a historical and archeological consulting firm headquartered in Missoula, Montana.
He’s the author of Religion, Politics, and Sugar: The Mormon Church, the Federal Government, and the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company, 1907–1921, which was a co-winner of the Mormon History Association’s Smith–Petit Award for Best Book. I read this book. I was fascinated. I had not known a single thing about Utah–Idaho Sugar.
|Matthew Godfrey: That’s great that you read it. Sugar beets are not something that many people get that interested in, so I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.|
|Laura H. Hales: When I told my husband, I was going to talk about Utah–Idaho Sugar, he shared a story with me. When he was about six or seven, his mom sent him to get some sugar in the grocery store. He went around the corner, and he picked up the C&H sugar, and he brought it back to his mom. She very gently told him, “No, sweetie. Take this back, and get the one marked U&I.” That experience stuck in his memory all of these years.
When did you first become interested in studying the Utah sugar industry?
|Matthew Godfrey: I became interested in this when I was a graduate student at Utah State University back in the mid-1990s. While I was getting my master’s degree at Utah State, I was hired by the department of history to do an oral history project about Charles Nibley who was the presiding bishop of the church, and, in the 1920s, also served as a counselor to Heber J. Grant in the first presidency.
In preparation to do this oral history project, I started to do some background research about Charles Nibley, and as I was researching in Utah State special collections and archives, I came across a document. It was a document produced by the Federal Trade Commission in the 1920s, and it was a report of an investigation that they had made into the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company for unfair business practices. This was the first document that I had seen about the sugar industry, and it just made me quite interested to explore more about what was going on with the church, with Charles Nibley, and with Utah–Idaho Sugar in the early 1900s.
|Laura H. Hales: The title of your book says from 1907 to 1921, but that’s not when the church first became involved in the sugar industry. Can you tell us about the origins of that?|
|Matthew Godfrey: The Utah–Idaho Sugar Company was formed in 1907, but the beginnings of the church’s involvement in sugar stretch back to the 1850s. After the Saints had moved to the Great Basin, Brigham Young was interested in making sure that the Saints were self-sufficient. He did not want them to be relying on outside enterprises, non-Mormons, for products and for goods.
One of the things he explored in the 1850s was the production of sugar in Utah territory. He sent John Taylor, one of the church’s apostles, over to France to study the sugar industry there because both Germany and France had a long history stemming back to the late 1700s of producing sugar from beets. John Taylor went over and studied how to manufacture sugar from beets, and then he returned to Utah with some equipment for processing beets. Unfortunately, this venture didn’t work. They weren’t able to produce sugar from sugar beets, but it was the initial step that the church took.
|Laura H. Hales: And we might want to say that it’s not an easy process.|
|Matthew Godfrey: It’s not.|
|Laura H. Hales: No. You can’t just say, “I’m going to be a sugar beet farmer today.” It takes many, many steps and expensive equipment. It’s fascinating that someone figured out how to do it.|
|Matthew Godfrey: It’s a very involved technology. In fact, even though those in France and Germany had been producing sugar from beets since the late 1700s, it really didn’t take off in the United States until after the Civil War. There were many attempts to try to produce sugar from beets that failed. Brigham Young and John Taylor were not alone in their failure at that time. So really in the late 1880s, there was renewed interest on the part of some individuals in Utah to try to produce sugar from beets.
They initially were going to try and produce sugar from sorghum cane, but when that didn’t quite work out, they turned their attention to beets. The problem was that they needed capital in order to finance the construction of a factory so that they could extract the sugar from the beets. To get that capital, they approached Wilford Woodruff, who was president of the church at that time, and asked if the church could provide some funding, some capital, for this industry.
They actually found a ready-made individual in Wilford Woodruff because at the time he was interested as well in getting the church involved in more businesses. In fact, as he thought more about getting the church involved in the sugar industry, he said that he had a revelation. He had inspiration from the Lord that it was the Lord’s will that the church become involved in the sugar business.
From that revelation, he met with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and he instructed several of them, including Heber J. Grant and Joseph F. Smith, to go out among Utah businessmen and try to raise money for the sugar factory. They went out. They did that. They raised the necessary funds, and in 1889 the Utah Sugar Company was formed. At the time, the church didn’t have a financial interest in the company. They were just kind of boosters for it. But as the 1890s wore on and as the company got into some financial difficulties, Wilford Woodruff, again, believing that God wanted this industry established got the church involved financially in the industry.
It’s really from the 1890s that the church had a set financial interest in producing sugar.
|Laura H. Hales: That interest was twofold, wasn’t it? To give the Saints something to do to earn money and to be self-sufficient in sugar.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Definitely. Joseph F. Smith and Wilford Woodruff both talked about the need to provide some labor opportunities for the Saints in the Great Basin. The labor could come as employees working in the factory to actually extract the sugar, but sugar beets also became a very important cash crop to farmers in Utah and in Idaho. In that way, it benefited them as well. There was this interest, both in providing opportunities for the Saints as well as making sure that Utah had sugar that it was producing itself.|
|Laura H. Hales: So, a generation of teenage boys grew up as beet diggers.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes. They did. And it’s very interesting because if you talk to, even today, a certain generation, probably about 60 years and older, invariably, if they grew up in Utah, they’ll say, “Oh, yeah. I used to thin beets.” Or, “I used to top beets.” People tell me that all the time.|
|Laura H. Hales: The church had been involved in other businesses before this sugar industry business. What set their involvement apart in this case?|
|Matthew Godfrey: I think it’s really just the fact that Wilford Woodruff believed and said that God wanted them involved in the sugar business. I don’t know, for example, that Wilford or anyone else ever claimed that God gave him a revelation to get the church involved in the cattle industry or in the salt industry or anything like that. But definitely with sugar, he said that it was the mind and will of God that the church become involved with it.|
|Laura H. Hales: We’ll see that this causes problems later as members of the church look at the church’s involvement in the sugar industry and say ZCMI, and they see a little difference in the behavior of the church.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes.|
|Laura H. Hales: You took us up through some financial difficulties they had around the turn of the century. How did they get out of that bind?|
|Matthew Godfrey: With the Utah Sugar Company, part of it came through church funding—the church actually providing money and purchasing stock in the company. But the problem was that in the 1890s the church was having its own financial difficulties and this came about because they were stretched a little too thin with investments they were making in companies and because of the difficulties with plural marriage and the confiscation of property by the federal government. The church itself did not have enough money to actually provide to the Utah Sugar Company at the time.
You also have the panic of 1893, a very severe financial panic that hit the United States, and that meant there weren’t a lot of people that had disposable income that they could put into the company as well.
The real way the Utah Sugar Company got out of the financial bind was that they approached the American Sugar Refining Company, which was the largest cane sugar refining company in the United States. It was an Eastern company but in the early 1900s, American Sugar started to branch out and started to become involved in beet sugar as well.
They approached Henry Havemeyer, who was the president of American Sugar, and they asked him for funding as well. Henry Havemeyer actually purchased 50% of the stock in the Utah Sugar Company, which saved the Utah Sugar Company. This allowed the company to continue, but it also meant that Henry Havemeyer and the American Sugar Refining Company, which was known in the United States at the time as the Sugar Trust, now had a large vested interest in the Utah Sugar Company.
|Laura H. Hales: Not just the Sugar Trust, but the mother of all trusts.|
|Matthew Godfrey: The mother of all trusts. That’s correct.|
|Laura H. Hales: Now, we have eastern businessmen investing in something the church started because of a revelation, and I guess they probably sought donations on the basis that the prophet had received a revelation.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes.|
|Laura H. Hales: How did they have to change their business practices with this big infusion of money. I was looking at the numbers. Millions of dollars back at the turn of the century is big money.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yeah.|
|Laura H. Hales: And then plus we don’t know all the reasons Havemeyer invested except for he liked to have his fingers in all sugar. But he, of course, wanted a profit so he would want to say something about the business practices.|
|Matthew Godfrey: I think the biggest way that this influences the company is that by tying Utah Sugar to the Sugar Trust the company is no longer producing sugar on a regional basis. It’s not just producing sugar for Utah, for the Great Basin. Now it’s in the national market and because it’s in the national market that means that those operating the Utah Sugar Company have to be very concerned about business practices so they can make a profit.
Sugar was really a cut-throat industry at the time. Prices were essentially fixed by the American Sugar Refining Company. If you undercut those prices and tried to sell beneath what American Sugar wanted you to sell it at, they could wage a war against your business. They could’ve effectually put the business under, which they did to numerous sugar companies at the time.
Utah Sugar not only has to be listening to Henry Havemeyer and how he wants the company run and what he thinks is beneficial but they also have to get that same mindset that Havemeyer has that in order to survive we basically have to do whatever we need to make sure that we keep our share of the market.
One of the things that it does is it gives this mindset to some of those running the Utah Sugar Company that basically anything goes in the sugar business because you have to keep yourself profitable. You have to keep yourself in the market.
|Laura H. Hales: Did the church leadership ever pressure members to buy Utah–Idaho Sugar, and if they did, what would that have looked like?|
|Matthew Godfrey: There’s a couple of different ways this happened. When the church was concerned about raising money for Utah Sugar back in the 1890s, they did send out some of the apostles to ask people to contribute to, to invest, in the Utah Sugar Company. There were also discourses, sermons, that were given at general conference about sugar. You have Wilford Woodruff talking about it. You have Joseph F. Smith talking about it. They’re essentially saying, “We’ve started this fledgling sugar company, and we expect the Saints to support it.” I think Joseph F. Smith even went so far as to say, “If you don’t support the Utah Sugar Company, you might be a Mormon, but you’re not a Latter-day Saint.|
|Laura H. Hales: That’s like a burn statement. Burn!|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes. You have this pressure in the 1890s from the high church leadership, which really goes away after Utah Sugar gets on firm financial ground. The high church leadership after that time doesn’t really say a whole lot about sugar.
But what you do have after that time, is you have stake presidents, you have bishops, and other people who sometimes will pressure their congregants into supporting Utah Sugar and then later into Utah–Idaho Sugar. This could take the form of telling farmers that they needed to make sure they grew beets only for the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company. This happened in the 1910s up in Idaho where Utah–Idaho Sugar had a factory. The Beet Sugar Growers Company tried to get a foothold in the area, and you had stake presidents in the area who would tell their congregations that they needed to make sure they were only contracting with Utah–Idaho Sugar, not with this other concern.
You had those dual things. You had the high church leadership on the one hand, and then you had local leaders who could also exert pressure—both on the farmers and then on people that actually purchased the sugar as well.
|Laura H. Hales: I read in your book where some bishops would even say, “Raise your hand to sustain Utah–Idaho Sugar.” I thought that would be really strange.|
|Matthew Godfrey: That would be strange. I’m glad we don’t do that anymore.|
|Laura H. Hales: Utah–Idaho is trying to make money, and, of course, they want to pay the beet growers the lowest amount they can, but the beet growers are saying, “Hey, with Zion Cooperative, it was all a mutual benefit association here.” Now that you have these outside resources, Utah–Idaho is a national company, not a regional company. That’s a huge transition from how the church has participated in businesses in the past. We’re not making stuff for the United Order anymore.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Right. It’s a really interesting period of time for the church economically, this period between 1890 and 1920. The period that Thomas Alexander has referred to as “Mormonism in Transition.” You see this transition occurring certainly socially with the end of plural marriage in 1890. You see it politically with Utah becoming a state and the efforts to have a viable two-party system in Utah, but you also see it economically.
And economically, what you see is the church moving from cooperatives, from the mindset of where the church dominates everything in the economy to integration into this more national economy where they’re influenced more by national trends than they are by regional trends. They have to pay more attention to national trends, and it’s not as appropriate or accepted for the church to be exerting economic influence.
The church is still in this mindset that, “We’re building up industry. We’re investing money in these things so our people can have employment, and, therefore, we want to see it succeed so we’ll take a large role in it.” You see people on a national stage looking at that and saying, “Wait a second. That can’t happen. You can’t have that kind of ecclesiastical influence over business interests. You can’t be that involved in business interests.”
|It comes at a time when the United States, as a whole, is very sensitive about big business. The Progressive Era is noted for the trust-busting aspects of it where you have Theodore Roosevelt as president, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. All three of them try to take measures to make sure there’s not unfair competition in business, that you don’t have these large trusts and these monopolies, but that there are fair competitive conditions that exist in the United States.
The church, and especially Utah–Idaho Sugar, begins running afoul of all of these trends. And you see this Progressive Movement and the efforts to break down big business come into play with Utah–Idaho Sugar because it is, essentially, a monopoly in the Great Basin over sugar. You have other sugar companies, such as the Amalgamated Sugar Company, but Amalgamated Sugar is controlled by the church as well. Essentially, the church is running the sugar business in Utah and Idaho, and, again, that creates some problems.
|Laura H. Hales: What kind of political tools did Teddy Roosevelt and the Congress have at their disposal when they wanted to dissolve this trust or to find them guilty of having a trust?|
|Matthew Godfrey: The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890, and that was the main legislation the federal government could use to try to bust many of these trusts. Under Woodrow Wilson there was also the Federal Trade Commission tried to regulate what businesses were doing at the time; the Federal Trade Commission could investigate businesses. They could issue Cease and Desist Orders against business. That, too, was a tool that could be used.
The other thing I think was very important at the time was the muckraking journalism that is characteristic of the Progressive Era where you had national magazines that would investigate these trusts and cause national outrage and a national outcry against the trust. You had Ida Tarbell writing about the Standard Oil Company of John D. Rockefeller, which just creates this huge uproar for regulation of the oil industry.
The church sees it as well. It comes a little bit later than some of these other muckraking articles. It really doesn’t hit until about 1910, but you have a series of articles in magazines such as Harper’s, Cosmopolitan, some of these other national magazines that target both the sugar company and the church itself as an economic interest saying the church has millions of dollars. Joseph F. Smith is kind of this king who has all this money, and he’s controlling everything economically in the area. But they also focused on the sugar industry itself and—
|Laura H. Hales: Obviously, they didn’t do any on on-site research. Joseph F. Smith was very poor.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Right. He was. Some of them got information from Frank J. Cannon, George Q. Cannon’s son who became disaffected from the church. He wrote his own book about the church, Under the Prophet in Utah.|
|Laura H. Hales: One thing we haven’t mentioned yet that’s odd …
Even when these outside interests start investing in Utah–Idaho, the president of the church is also the president of the sugar company, and people in high leadership in Utah and Idaho have high church leadership callings, which is totally foreign to us because nowadays the presiding bishop gives up his day job. That didn’t happen in the early 20th century. Charles Nibley was presiding bishop, and he ran the sugar company.
|Matthew Godfrey: It’s a very interesting thing because you have Joseph F. Smith, who’s president of Utah–Idaho Sugar while he’s president of the church, and then after he dies and Heber J. Grant becomes president of the church, Heber J. Grant also becomes president of Utah–Idaho Sugar, and Charles Nibley is the managing director of the company for several years while he’s presiding bishop. And that creates its own issues as well.
Just as one example of this, when the United States is in the First World War, the federal government issues price controls for sugar because they don’t want people profiteering from a sugar shortage that was occurring since France and Germany were both big sugar producers. During World War I, they were not producing things.
Price controls are set. And for a time, the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company follows the price controls. But then they decide, once the war is over, once the armistice has been put into place, that they don’t need to follow the price controls anymore. The federal government had a different opinion because they realized the sugar prices and the sugar industry was still unstable even though peace had come about. Utah–Idaho Sugar jacked up its prices about as high as it could, and there were several indictments issued against its directors for profiteering.
One of those indictments was against Charles Nibley, who is presiding bishop of the church.
|Now, the real interesting thing is that at the April 1920 general conference, after these indictments had been issued, Heber J. Grant, president of the church, president of the sugar company, gets up in general conference, and his initial address is all about forgiveness. He says specifically in that address, “Just because someone has been indicted for something, doesn’t mean they are guilty.” And it’s very clear he’s referring to Charles Nibley, the presiding bishop, who had just been indicted. This involvement, this entanglement between church leaders having ecclesiastical positions and positions with the sugar company, created those kinds of issues.|
|Laura H. Hales: Let’s go back to when they were investigated as a trust. This was interesting. They were found to be a trust, but they weren’t dissolved.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Right.|
|Laura H. Hales: That’s what we expect to happen. And that’s because there wasn’t a lot of muscle behind the Progressive Movement. There were a lot of ideas.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Right.|
|Laura H. Hales: And then when they did jack their price up when they weren’t supposed to they again got in trouble with Congress, but no repercussions, right?|
|Matthew Godfrey: Right. The real issue with that was because the Supreme Court, the judicial system of the United States, frequently overturned some of the findings of the Federal Trade Commission and of the Department of Justice. In the case of the profiteering example I was just referring to, Charles Nibley and others are indicted under the Lever Act, which was the act that allowed Congress to establish price controls over sugar. But they’re never prosecuted for this because the Supreme Court ends up declaring the Lever Act unconstitutional. After that declaration, all indictments under the Lever Act are quashed. There are never any repercussion for the profiteering that occurred.
The same thing happens with the Federal Trade Commission, which investigates Utah–Idaho Sugar in the 1910s and early 1920s for monopolistic practices. They end up issuing a Cease and Desist Order, which says Utah–Idaho Sugar and Amalgamated Sugar are a monopoly; they’re a trust. They’re guilty of unfair business practices, of colluding with each other, of pressuring people so they only grow beets for that sugar company. They issue the Cease and Desist Order, but, again, the judicial system becomes involved and the Supreme Court declares that the Federal Trade Commission has no jurisdiction over the sugar industry because the manufacturing of sugar does not constitute interstate commerce; the Federal Trade Commission can only have jurisdiction over interstate commerce. Because of that, nothing comes about with the Federal Trade Commission’s decision either. It goes away.
|Laura H. Hales: Technicalities.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Technicalities.|
|Laura H. Hales: They’re getting off on technicalities.|
|Matthew Godfrey: That’s right.|
|Laura H. Hales: With all this pressure—political and legal—the church still sticks with it. Probably because it’s a profitable business. I think the last prophet who was president of Utah–Idaho Sugar was David O. McKay?|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes. I think so.|
|Laura H. Hales: I couldn’t walk into a store right now and buy Utah–Idaho Sugar.|
|Matthew Godfrey: No.|
|Laura H. Hales: Why do you think the LDS Church maintained its involvement in the industry with all this pressure from members within and people outside the church?|
|Matthew Godfrey: The real pressure that comes about is really in the 1910s, 1920s period. And really, after the first part of the 1920s, there is a crash in the sugar industry, as there is in the United States as a whole in agriculture, that precipitates the United States entering into the Great Depression. Once these things happen, there seems to be less and less of a concern about the involvement of the church in the sugar industry. Part of that too is because once Charles Nibley is no longer involved in the industry, I think these efforts to try to put into place some of these unfair business practices goes away. You don’t see the sugar company doing that really anymore after that time. There’s really not much pressure after the 1920s about church involvement in the industry.
Why they stuck it out through all of that in the 1910s and 1920s, I think is very simple. It’s because Heber J. Grant himself was convinced Wilford Woodruff had had a revelation that the church should be involved in the sugar industry. He too believed that until the Lord told him not to be in sugar anymore, they needed to maintain that interest. I think he and Charles Nibley also believed the church had already invested so much into seeing this become a viable industry that they needed to continue. They just shouldn’t pull out of it. They needed to continue their efforts. I think they also really did believe it was a very important crop for farmers, which it was. It was a significant cash crop for farmers so I think they wanted to maintain their support because of that as well. Those are all reasons why the church maintains its commitment to Utah–Idaho Sugar over decades.
|Laura H. Hales: It’s working.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes.|
|Laura H. Hales: You left me with a cliffhanger because I knew there was no more Utah–Idaho Sugar, but you didn’t discuss how the church got out of the sugar business.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes.|
|Laura H. Hales: Do you want to share that?|
|Matthew Godfrey: They got out of it in the 1970s, and it really comes about because of the advent of artificial sweeteners and the use of corn syrup as a sweetener in many things. Because of that, the industry is not that profitable so in the late 1970s, early 1980s, the church decides it’s no longer going to be involved in sugar production. The Utah–Idaho Sugar Company actually becomes more of a general agricultural company, AgraWest, which is located in Washington. And after the early 80s, they’re not doing sugar production anymore. Utah–Idaho Sugar Company doesn’t exist after really the 1970s. The Amalgamated Sugar Company, on the other hand, does still exist. It still has operating factories today.|
|Laura H. Hales: Owned by the church?|
|Matthew Godfrey: No. No, it’s not.|
|Laura H. Hales: They sold it?|
|Matthew Godfrey: Yes.|
|Laura H. Hales: You mentioned Thomas Alexander called this time period about the turn-of-the-century, “Mormonism in Transition,” and modern historian, J. B. Haws has called this time we’re living in the teenage stage of our church. What do you think the lasting legacies were if any of the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company? What did the church learn? And do you think what they’ve learned affects how they do business now? Have you seen any indication of that?|
|Matthew Godfrey: That’s a great question. I’m not sure it has a lasting legacy in terms of affecting how the church does business today, but I think it certainly had some impact in the past.
As one example, one of the things Tom Alexander has argued as well is that a few years after Heber J. Grant becomes president of the church, he goes out of his way to make sure church businesses aren’t harming their competitors, not trying to do anything inappropriate or illegal to eliminate competition. And I think that’s a direct result of what happens with the Utah–Idaho Sugar Company. I think the adverse publicity that comes about because of that convinces Heber J. Grant that it’s not worth it. The church is better off allowing competition and allowing other businesses to thrive.
I think certainly, in the short term with Heber J. Grant’s presidency, it has a direct impact on that. I don’t know that any church leaders would say they look at the problems that Utah–Idaho Sugar have in the 1910s, and this affected anything. But it is interesting that the church does finally pull back and say its general authorities will not sit on any boards of businesses. This doesn’t happen until, what, the 1980s, 1990s, so it’s far removed from the 1910s and the 1920s. But I do think if you look at the history, you see some of the problems that arise when you do have general authorities of the church sitting on the boards of for-profit businesses. It can create problems. I think that is one lesson we can learn from Utah–Idaho Sugar that I think the church has put into effect—it’s not really that great of an idea to have its general authorities be on boards of directors and actively involved in business.
|Laura H. Hales: Absolutely. Well, thank you for coming and talking about this today. It was fascinating. I want to mention to listeners that Matt’s book is available for free download from Utah State Press, and I will put a link to that in the show notes on our website. Also, please go to the website if you’re interested in supporting transcripts for the episodes we air. Thank you.|
|Matthew Godfrey: Thank you very much for having me.|
Disclaimer: LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS Church leaders, policies, or practices.