The first issue of the Deseret News rolled off the press 168 years ago on June 15, 1850 — three years after Mormon pioneers first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. While this paper’s masthead bore the same name as today's Deseret News, it's gone through some changes over the years.
Printed on eight sheets with handset metal type, the first issue featured the new publication's motto, "Truth and Liberty," and a note from the editor, Willard Richards, that pledged to "promote the best interest, welfare, pleasure and amusement of our fellow citizens." Just over 200 copies were printed and sold for 15 cents a piece or $2.50 for a six-month subscription.
While the Deseret News sought to keep Utahns informed of current events, the first paper reported a story over six months old about a long-extinguished San Francisco fire.
News was hard to come by for both readers and the paper’s editors. Salt Lake Valley was remote and isolated in 1850, with no access to telephones, telegraphs, railroads or a reliable mail system.
Before the Deseret News, LDS church president Brigham Young would call a "news conference" whenever travelers brought newspapers from the east, reading the news to eagerly assembled audiences for hours, according to "Through Our Eyes," a compilation of Deseret News history as told by the paper's writers and editors.
The inspiration for a newspaper in the Mountain West first came in 1846 while the Mormon pioneers were camped on the west bank of the Missouri at Winter Quarters. Young told Mormon apostles "this people cannot live without intelligence" and urged Mormon leader William W. Phelps to travel back east to retrieve a printing press.
Phelps bought the press for $61, and in August 1849, an ox-drawn wagon finally carried it into the Salt Lake Valley. It was described as slightly larger than a clothes wringer and was capable of printing two copies per minute.
The Mormon settlers set up the press in a tiny adobe building that also functioned as the territory’s mint, just east of where the Joseph Smith Memorial building stands today. Ten months later, the first Deseret News issue was printed.
As the first newspaper in Utah, the Deseret News has chronicled the settlement of the West, the creation of a new state and over sixteen decades of world events, witnessing two world wars and 34 United States presidencies.
To reflect on this lengthy history, we’ve compiled some key events in the paper’s past, drawing from Deseret News’s own historical account as well as this short documentary celebrating Deseret News’s 150th anniversary.
1850–1899: Early beginnings
1850: The first Deseret News issue was published on June 15 in an adobe shack on South Temple just east of Main Street. Willard Richards and his three-man staff cranked out 220 copies on a hand-operated press and sold them for 15 cents a piece.
1851: Less than a year later, the paper and press moved a few yards to the west into the Deseret Store Building, on the northeast corner of South Temple and Main Street, where the Joseph Smith Memorial Building stands today.
1854: Because available supplies of newsprint were shrinking, the Deseret News began requesting that readers donate rags to serve as pulp for homemade newsprint. The first edition made with the homemade paper appeared in June 1854.
1856: Deseret News offices moved to the Council House, a public building on the southwest corner of South Temple and Main Street. In 1858, they temporarily moved south to Fillmore to escape the turbulence of the Utah War but returned to the Council House after five months.
1860: Brigham Young purchased a paper-making machine for the newspaper and installed it in a Sugar House mill. Young called George Goddard to travel throughout the territory collecting old rags to be made into paper. From 1861 to 1864, Goddard gathered more than 100,000 pounds of rags.
1862: The paper moved back to the Deseret Store, where its headquarters remained for 41 years.
1860: The first Deseret News sports story was published, commenting on a London boxing match between a British champion and an American underdog. The first full sports page appeared in 1893 and featured yachting, horse races and a famous cricket player. By the turn of the century, daily sports pages were commonplace.
1861: Telegraph lines came to Utah, meaning information from across the country arrived in minutes instead of weeks or even months.
1864: The paper bought a steam-powered cylinder press capable of printing 1,800 newspapers per hour.
1865: The Deseret News began publishing as a semi-weekly, yet it also continued the weekly edition as a separate publication.
1867: A daily Deseret News edition, the Deseret Evening News, was launched. The daily edition was intended for city readers while the weekly and semi-weekly editions, which ended in 1898 and 1922 respectively, were designed for rural areas where mail was delivered more infrequently.
1890: A new Bullock press was purchased that could print on both sides of a sheet at once, producing 14,000 eight-page newspapers in an hour.
1897: Linotype machines were installed with typewriter-like keyboards that could set type five times faster than doing it by hand.
1900–1945: A new century
1901: One-picture cartoons appeared for the first time. The first serialized comic strip began in 1916 called "Just Kids."
1903: The Deseret News moved to a six-story building on the site of the Council House, which burned down in 1883.
1920: The name, Deseret Evening News was dropped, and the paper returned to its original title, Deseret News.
1920s: Bylines were used for the first time on the Deseret News sports page, but they weren’t used in other parts of the paper until the 1930s.
1920s–30s: Dozens of newsboys sold papers on Salt Lake streets for five cents a piece, fighting to maintain their turf on popular street corners.
1922: The paper received a license to officially operate a radio station, with call letters KZN (which were later changed to KSL). Its daylong program reached listeners 1,000 miles away.
1926: The paper moved to a long-lasting residence on Richards Street, across the street from Temple Square, where it would remain for 42 years.
1931: The first weekly, tabloid-size Church News section was published.
1946–1980: Postwar expansion
1948: The Deseret News greatly expanded, increasing its staff and eventually doubling the paper’s circulation to 100,000. During this time a young Thomas S. Monson, now the LDS Church president, joined the staff as a classified ad salesman. The paper added a financial page, international political analysis, a family section and a Sunday edition with colored photographs. It also hired part-time correspondents throughout the Mountain West.
1952: The owners of the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune entered into a joint operating agreement, publishing separate material while sharing printing, advertising and circulation costs. This sharply reduced operation expenses and ensured the financial health of both publications.
1960: Coin-operated newspaper dispensers appeared on Salt Lake City streets, eliminating the need for newsboys.
1961: The Deseret News received the Pulitzer Prize for "local reporting under the pressure of deadline," by reporter Robert D. Mullins. Mullins covered a small-town robbery that escalated into murder, kidnapping, a manhunt and a dramatic suicide. While covering the story, Mullins drove 1,800 miles in desolate Utah and barely slept for several days yet still met every deadline with detailed reports.
1968: The Deseret News moved to remodeled offices on the 100 South corner of Regent Street.
1980–present: A new digital era
1983: Word processing computers eliminated typewriting and hard-copy editing. National and international news was transmitted to computers by satellite, and photo editors began retouching digital photos.Comment on this story
1995: The paper established the Crossroads Information Service. This dial-up service linked subscribers to content on Deseret News computers through software they installed via floppy disks. In September, the Deseret News launched its first website, DesNews.com.
1997: The Deseret News moved to nine-story offices at 30 East and 100 South.
2003: The Deseret News switched to morning publication and changed its name on June 9 to the Deseret Morning News. On April 13, 2008, the paper announced in a front page editor's note that its name was changing back to the Deseret News, yet it would continue to be published in the morning.
2010: The Deseret News moved to its 13th and current residence at the Triad Center on 300 West, integrating with KSL’s newsroom.