1 of 24
Deseret News archives
Heber Wells, Utah's first governor, reads a copy of the Deseret News in 1938, 42 years after he took office.

Utahns first petitioned for statehood in 1849, two years after the Mormon pioneers first established homes in the Great Basin.

But it took 47 years — and an official declaration from the leadership of the LDS Church stating church members would no longer practice polygamy — before President Grover Cleveland on Saturday, Jan. 4, 1896, issued the proclamation admitting Utah to the Union as the 45th state.

Salt Lake City officials, wanting to be properly prepared for the occasion, postponed the official celebration until Monday, Jan. 6.

But residents didn't wait that long. A battery of the Utah National Guard marched to Capitol Hill and fired a 21-gun salute to alert the city. Businesses closed their doors and crowds swarmed the streets, ringing bells, shooting off firecrackers and blowing whistles.

"The news of the admission was welcomed by the firing of cannon and small arms, the shrieking of steam whistles and every other kind of noise which could be produced," wrote James E. Talmage in his personal diary.

An article in the Jan. 4, 1896, Provo Daily Enquirer said that when a telegram announcing the signing of the proclamation was delivered to the newspaper — and the community ?— "precisely at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time," the celebration started:

"At once the entire Enquirer building was covered with bunting and flags. The city marshal's office was notified and the Woolen Mills was called up by telephone, the Asylum and other places having steam whistles, and the long expected joyful news imparted. In the incredibly short space of time the entire city was reverberating with the shrieks of whistles, the chimes of bells, shooting of guns and cannon, and the happy shouts of freemen out of bondage. The town was decorated as if by magic and flags were soon seen floating from every public place and housetops everywhere."

Through the years, Jan. 4 has been recognized as Utah's Statehood Day. Sometimes the date coincides with the gubernatorial inauguration, which occurs on the first Monday of a new year following an election. On those occasions, the day is marked with inaugural balls and public ceremonies.

Many other years, like this one, the day passes with little or no notice.

Deseret News photographers have been on hand at many formal Statehood Day events, including the first one. Photo researcher Ron Fox has culled the newspaper's archives for these photographs, some that have never been published.

On Jan. 6, 1896, the Salt Lake LDS Tabernacle hosted the state's official celebration, a 45-star flag made for the occasion in the ZCMI overall and fabrics factory stretched 160 feet along the ceiling. It was the largest American flag at the time.

Heber M. Wells, Utah's first governor, gave an inaugural address, and various patriotic songs were part of the program, including Edward Stephens' "Utah We Love Thee," written especially for the occasion.

In 1976, the year of the national bicentennial celebration, Statehood Day was marked with a re-enactment of the original celebration with Gov. Calvin Rampton and LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball highlighting the event, followed by a Bicentennial Ball in the Capitol Rotunda.

In 1996, the centennial of Utah's statehood was celebrated in fine fashion.

"With songs, dancing and a fusillade of gunfire that set downtown Salt Lake City's concrete canyon echoing, Utahns heralded the state's first hundred years," wrote Jerry Spangler and Twila Van Leer in the Jan. 4, 1996, Deseret News. "A re-enactment of the momentous arrival of the telegram from Washington, D.C. announcing the signing of the statehood document climaxed the morning activities as Utah's 100th Statehood Day got into full swing."

Many cities have hosted the official Statehood Day activities. In 1979, Fillmore, which served as the capitol of the Utah Territory in 1855, hosted the event. It was held in Springville in 1984, Provo in 1992, Cedar City in 1993, Lehi in 1998 and West Valley City in 2000, among others.

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com