Utah State Historical Society
LDS faithful exit the Salt Lake Tabernacle after a meeting circa 1907.

"Church now out of debt. Last cent of million dollar bond issue paid, says President Smith." That April 5, 1907, headline in the Deseret News was likely the biggest announcement to come out of General Conference a century ago.

"Profitable investments made long ago furnish the revenue necessary for that purpose — Past year has been prosperous and people are happy and united as never before," the News article continued.

Among the more obvious differences from General Conference today to 100 years ago is the technology available. Without radio and television, those who wanted to hear it had to at least be within Temple Square.

And without a sound system to amplify the sermons meant a "three-ring circus" at Temple Square. Three separate meetings actually were being held at the General Conference gatherings of that era.

Approximately 6,000 people were in the Tabernacle hearing President Joseph F. Smith and other general authorities. The overflow convened in the nearby Assembly Hall, where they heard a different slate of speakers, under the direction of Elder Heber J. Grant of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Meantime, a third group of overflow conferencegoers — also numbering in the thousands — had an outdoor service, held in the afternoon from the steps of the Bureau of Information on Temple Square. Elder George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve conducted that meeting from an outdoor pulpit.

Sunday, April 7, 1907, also featured "the greatest number of people ever gathered on the tabernacle grounds," the News reported.

Another General Conference difference was that the semi-annual gathering lasted three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Friday agenda included a special evening concert in the Tabernacle, following morning and afternoon sessions.

"Crowds throng city's streets" was a News headline from April 4, 1907. "Conference visitors coming in from all parts of the West." It was reported that 700 people arrived for conference on one train, many of them from Richfield. At least 3,000 people were expected to come to town just for conference, jamming all hotels. Merchants prepared for record business, and fair weather prevailed.

Spectacular floral displays on the Temple Square grounds delighted visitors then, as they do now. Even in the absence of a yet-to-be-created Church Welfare System, church leaders reported that year that the church was sending 20 tons of breadstuff to famine sufferers in the Orient.

Other topics covered by conference speakers a century ago:

• President Joseph S. Smith told the priesthood holders to be "pure, honest, broad-minded and charitable." He also advised parents to properly teach their children gospel principles, or they would never be permitted to enter the kingdom of heaven.

• Elder John Henry Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve warned against the day's pleasure-seeking trend, which can make men lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.

• President Anton H. Lund urged good record-keeping by all church members. He also urged any with private journals of significant ancestors in the church to give them to the church historian, so that church accounts could be supplemented.

• Elder James Duffin, former member of the presidency of the Central States Mission, said during his seven years in that calling none of the more than 600 full-time missionaries ever had to be released for misconduct or sin.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com