SALT LAKE CITY — When President Donald Trump comes to Salt Lake City on Monday, he'll be the 23rd sitting president of the United States to visit Utah. And when he tours the LDS Church's Welfare Square, he'll be the 17th president to either meet with church leaders or set foot on church properties or facilities.
Most visiting presidents have interacted with one or more leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoken at the Salt Lake Tabernacle or dropped by a church facility. But not all have. Bill Clinton opted for skiing in Park City, while Dwight Eisenhower visited the Four Corners area.
There have been interesting events and interactions as well.
For example, which U.S. president was the first VIP to stay at the Hotel Utah? Which president made an unexpected landing while flying to California to call on an LDS leader? Which one offered church leaders a tour of Air Force One? Which one watched the canning of tomatoes and processing of milk at an LDS welfare facility? And which president played golf with a Mormon leader?
From Ulysses S. Grant to Barack Obama, here are the recorded interactions of U.S. presidents with LDS leaders and locations during visits to Utah.
1875 — President Ulysses S. Grant
Extending west following a trip to Colorado, Grant was the first U.S. president to visit Utah — 25 years after it became a territory and 21 years before it would gain statehood.
While riding the train from Ogden to Salt Lake City, the 18th U.S. president was introduced by George Q. Cannon, a member of the church’s First Presidency, to LDS president-prophet Brigham Young, who said: “President Grant, this is the first time I have ever seen a president of my country.”
According to a register kept at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Grant also toured Temple Square on Oct. 2 during his 1875 visit to Salt Lake City.
1890 — President Rutherford B. Hayes
The nation’s 19th president traveled to Salt Lake City and visited Temple Square on Sept. 6, 1880, accompanying Civil War general William Sherman, who was making his third visit to Temple Square in five years.
Along with a small party, they and others enjoyed an explanation and demonstration of the tabernacle’s acoustics, as provided by the building’s janitor. Hayes also met with LDS President John Taylor during his visit.
1891 — President Benjamin Harrison
Logging 9,232 train miles through the West, the 23rd U.S. president delivered some 140 speeches along the way, including stops in Utah. Salt Lake City was decked out for his May 9, 1891, visit, including a huge flag and welcome banner draped over the unfinished Salt Lake Temple.
After meeting briefly with the church’s First Presidency, Harrison opted not to speak as expected at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, instead speaking at Liberty Park and joined by the First Presidency. He later made several train-stop speeches in Utah County.
1903 — President Theodore Roosevelt
Salt Lake City was on the ambitious whistle-stop itinerary as the nation’s 26th president covered 14,000 miles, delivered 260 speeches and enjoyed stops at Yellowstone and Yosemite. Some 40,000 Utahns crammed along his depot-to-downtown parade route along South Temple and Main Street on May 29, 1903.
With President Joseph F. Smith and other LDS leaders in attendance, Roosevelt became the first sitting U.S. president to speak at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. “You took a state which at the outset was called after the desert,” he said in his address, “and you literally — not figuratively — you literally made the wilderness blossom as the rose.”
1909 and 1911 — President William Howard Taft
Taft’s first visit, Sept. 24-26, 1909, included golf at the Salt Lake Country Club, a downtown parade past some 20,000 school children, a visit to the Alta Club and addresses at both the Salt Lake and Provo tabernacles.
During a three-day October 1911 visit, the 27th U.S. president was one of the first VIP guests to stay at the Hotel Utah (now the LDS Church’s Joseph Smith Memorial Building), at a cost of $6 a night. He also spoke at the State Fair and again at the tabernacle, addressing elderly Utahns gathered at the latter.
1919 — President Woodrow Wilson
On a month-long tour pushing his proposed League of Nations, Wilson visited Salt Lake City on Sept. 23, 1919. Feeling ill, he begged off all meetings and receptions other than his speech at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. LDS Church President Heber J. Grant accompanied Wilson in his carriage from the train station and was present during the tabernacle event.
Wilson did make one request — that President Grant arrange for him a meeting with Emmeline B. Wells, the 92-year-old president of the LDS Relief Society, whose organization helped coordinate the U.S. government’s purchase of 200,000 bushels of wheat from the Relief Society during the “Great War.”
Shortly after his visit, the nation’s 28th president suffered a stroke, never fully recovering.
1923 — President Warren G. Harding
The Alaska-bound Harding paused his extensive journey in Utah, with a round of golf with LDS President Heber J. Grant, a private organ recital at the Salt Lake Tabernacle and a stay at the Hotel Utah as part of his itinerary. He also met Elizabeth Stapley, the first woman born in the Salt Lake Valley after the 1847 arrival of the Mormon pioneers.
The 29th U.S. president began his June 26 tabernacle speech saying, “I cannot tell you how happy you have made us. There could come to nobody in the world a more gracious, cordial and heartening reception that you have given us in your wonderful state and beautiful city. I almost wish I were not president, for I should like to fling aside my manuscript and just talk to you.”
But he forged ahead and gave his prepared address, titled “Taxation and Expenditure.” Five weeks later on his western swing, he fell ill in San Francisco and died on Aug. 2, 1923.
1932 — President Herbert Hoover
Hoover frequented Utah more than any U.S. president, visiting four times before his presidency and 18 times after, but only once during.
“This is by no means my first visit to Salt Lake City,” he said during his Nov. 7, 1932, address at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. “I came from the West, and one of my first professional engagements was the responsibility of carrying a chain and driving stakes on a ditch line in this state.”
The tabernacle appearance was part of the 31st president’s re-election bid and occurred just prior to Hoover arriving in California to cast his own ballot. He lost in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
1945, 1948, 1952 — President Harry S. Truman
In the first of three visits to Utah, Truman met with LDS Church President George Albert Smith on Nov. 3, 1945, just two months after the end of World War II. Mindful of the devastation in Europe, he asked how and when supplies could be delivered to the war-torn areas. President Smith replied that food, clothing and other relief supplies had already been collected and were ready to be shipped.
The two subsequent Utah visits were campaign efforts by the 33rd president.
Truman grew up in Independence, Missouri; his maternal grandfather, Solomon Young, had raised a family in Jackson County and made his fortune hauling freight to western destinations. In August 1860, Solomon Young led 40 wagons loaded with trade goods destined for the U.S. Army in the Salt Lake Valley; however, the consignment was refused by an officer. Instead, Solomon Young made a deal for the freight with Brigham Young.
In his Sept. 21, 1948, re-election campaign address in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Truman recalled that incident in which Solomon “came out whole on the matter.” Noting the presence of President Smith, Truman said: “Today I am most cordially received by the president of the Mormon Church, the successor of Brigham Young. I wish my old grandfather could see me now.”
And on Oct. 6, 1952, he spoke outdoors to Brigham Young University students seated in the football bleachers where the Richards Building now stands, campaigning in support of Adlai Stevenson’s presidential bid. Attending was President David O. McKay, who had become the LDS Church president the previous year.
1963 — President John F. Kennedy
While Kennedy had made four previous stops in Utah, his sole presidential visit — an overnight stay at the Hotel Utah — came Sept. 26-27, just two months before his assassination in Dallas. In Salt Lake City, the nation’s 35th president rode in an open limousine — the same one as in Dallas — along a downtown parade route jammed with an estimated 125,000 people.
With President McKay in attendance, Kennedy spoke in an overcrowded Salt Lake Tabernacle on Sept. 26, giving an address that he personally considered to be one of his best. Kennedy focused on foreign policy and the need for the United States be involved in — and not isolate itself from — global affairs.
“Let us remember that the Mormons of a century ago were a persecuted and prosecuted minority, harried from place to place, the victims of violence and occasionally murder, while today, in the short space of 100 years, their faith and works are known and respected the world around, and their voices heard in the highest councils of this country,” he said. “As the Mormons succeeded, so America can succeed, if we will not give up or turn back.”
The next day, Kennedy had breakfast with President McKay. And at the Salt Lake Municipal Airport, Kennedy flipped a switch to remotely start the first generators at the new Flaming Gorge Dam 150 miles to the east. “It was 116 years ago when Brigham Young introduced irrigation to the United States,” he said. “I’m glad that we’re following in that great tradition this morning.”
1964 — President Lyndon B. Johnson
LBJ visited Salt Lake City twice in 1964, the first an unscheduled stop on Sept. 17 while flying to Sacramento. The result was a 30-minute meeting with President McKay, with the two enjoying a close relationship.
“I could not fly over Utah without stopping to see President McKay,” Johnson said. “I always feel better after I have been in his presence”
The 36th U.S. president returned on Oct. 29, to once again meet with President McKay and to speak in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in his re-election bid. “We are all God’s children,” he said, “and the true morality of private life is the true morality of a free society: the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
1970 — President Richard Nixon
Like LBJ before him, Nixon made a pair of same-year Salt Lake City visits. On July 24, he greeted LDS Church President Joseph Fielding Smith and his counselors, spoke in front of the LDS Church Administration Building, offered Pioneer Day remarks and attended the Days of ’47 Rodeo.
And on Oct. 31, while speaking in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Presidential seal reportedly fell off the podium during his address.
Noting that the United States was the strongest and richest nation in the world, Nixon said that strength and wealth “is nothing unless the spirit of America is sound and good.”
The 37th president continued: “And I do not know of any group in America — and I would say this not only here, but in other places in this country — who have contributed more to that strong, moral leadership and high moral standards, the spirit that has kept American going through bad times as well as good times — no group has done more than those who are members of this church.”
1974 — President Gerald Ford
Both before and after his short presidential tenure, Ford made a number of official visits to Utah, including meeting with LDS leaders and visiting church facilities such as the Salt Lake Tabernacle and BYU. However, reports of his one presidential stop in early November 1974 are conflicting — some say it was Nov. 1, others Nov. 2. Ford’s White House diary shows Nov. 2, with no LDS-related interactions among the to-the-minute details for the 38th U.S. president.
1978 — President Jimmy Carter
In addition to speaking to the UEA Convention at the Salt Palace and touring Temple Square, Carter received the Family Unity Award from LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball on Nov. 27, 1978, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
In his tabernacle address, the nation’s 39th president admitted to arriving early to watch public-service TV clips on the family, to listen to a chorus of Primary children sing “I Am a Child of God” and to meet the Osmonds.
“Your great church epitomizes to me what a family ought to be — a church that believes through moral imperative, in strong families, in individualism, the right to be different, but the opportunity and even duty to grow as a human being, to prepare oneself for greater service,” he said. “The Relief Society organized by your church has brought blessings to tens of thousands of people, not in a highly publicized way, but in a quiet and effective way.”
1982 and 1984 — President Ronald Reagan
A frequent Utah visitor both before and after his presidency, Reagan had two visits where he had direct interactions with LDS leaders.
On Sept. 9, 1982, Reagan stopped to tour an LDS Church cannery and bishop’s storehouse in Ogden. There he was hosted by two future LDS Church presidents — President Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the First Presidency, and Elder Thomas S. Monson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
They observed the canning of tomatoes and processing of milk, with the day’s three-dozen volunteers having to clear White House security checks.
“This is one of the great examples in America today of what we’ve been talking about — ” Reagan said of the church’s welfare program, “about what the people could do for themselves if they hadn’t been dragooned into believe that government was the only answer.”
On Sept. 4, 1984, as the 40th U.S. president returned to speak at the American Legion Convention in the Salt Palace, he also met with LDS Church leaders. His private meeting with two dozen leaders at church headquarters was described as a “courtesy call and informal chat.”
1991 and 1992 – President George H.W. Bush
In two of his three presidential stops in Utah, the elder Bush met with LDS Church leaders, the first time being Sept. 19, 1991.
On July 17, 1992, he spent about 40 minutes with Presidents Hinckley and Monson and 11 members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Later that evening, the 41st president made a surprise appearance at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s pre-tour concert on Temple Square.
The next day, he spoke on family values to a BYU Marriott Center crowd of 19,000, with BYU turning the event into a weekend university forum rather than another Bush/Quayle campaign stop.
2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008 — President George W. Bush
The younger Bush made four Utah trips during his presidency, more than any other sitting U.S. president, and all four involved visits with LDS Church officials.
The first was in conjunction with the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, when he participated in the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies. Bush met earlier with LDS leaders, speaking about family history and genealogy.
The next two visits involved the nation’s 43rd president speaking to conventions of veterans groups — on Aug. 22, 2005, with the Veterans of Foreign Wars; and on Aug. 30-31, 2006, with the American Legion. Both involved meeting with LDS leaders, the later session with the First Presidency, Bush and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
Bush returned May 28-29, 2008, for fundraisers in Salt Lake City and Park City. A tour of Air Force One was given to President Monson, who was joined by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency and a former Lufthansa Airlines pilot, and Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president.
Bush ended his trip with a second-day meeting with President Monson, who had become church president earlier that year, and his counselors, President Henry B. Eyring and President Uchtdorf.
2015 — President Barack Obama
Though Ogden’s Hill Air Force Base was the point of arrival, speaking and departure, Obama spent the night of April 2, 2015, at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel, where the 44th U.S. president met with four LDS Church leaders — First Presidency counselors Presidents Eyring and Uchtdoft and Elders L. Tom Perry and D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve.11 comments on this story
Topics in the 20-minute meeting included the president’s appreciation to the church for its balance between religious freedom and nondiscrimination as well as for its worldwide humanitarian-aid and disaster-relief efforts. The church leaders thanked Obama for his and his wife’s example in marriage and family life. The group also spoke briefly on immigration.
Sources: Deseret News, Smithsonion, www.lehi-ut.gov, California Digital Newspaper Collection, LDS Living, Temple Square Blog, The American Presidency Project, BYU Religious Studies Center, Utah State History, KSL.com, LDS Church News, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Blog, "The Mormon Image in the American Mind" (J.B. Haws), lds.org, UPI Archives, Provo Daily Herald, Mormon Newsroom