Lara M. Bangerter | Lehi Historical Society
In 1865, Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, expressed support for cooperative marketing. “Why not draw money for our grain and spend it ourselves instead of allowing those who have no interest with us to handle it for us and pocket fortunes which we shall enjoy and lay out in redeeming the earth and building up the kingdom of God in all the world.”
However, this concept of a cooperative mercantile did not cometo fruition in Lehi until 1857, when Israel Evans returned home from an LDS mission in Great Britain.
While there, Israel witnessed an early cooperative mercantile in Rochdale, England. The impressive enterprise, founded, owned and operated by 28 primarily low-paid weavers, benefited its members. This means anyone could join; stockholders had only one vote, no matter how many shares they owned; limited interest was paid on shares; goods and services were sold at regular market value; and all profits were used to improve the business or were refunded to the members.
Lehi historian, Richard Van Wagoner, wrote in his book Lehi: Portraits of a Utah Town, “Israel Evans and his father [David Evans, first LDS bishop in Lehi] became convinced that a co-op, roughly patterned after the Rochdale plan could succeed in Lehi.” A meeting was held, $350 worth of stock was issued in $25 shares, and officers were chosen.
On July 23, 1868, the Lehi Union Exchange, “named because people could exchange their produce for store goods,” opened to “immediate success” at the northwest corner of 300 West and 100 South.
President Young was so impressed with the endeavor that he mentioned the Lehi Union Exchange just five months after its opening in his April 1869 General Conference remarks:
“They struck a dividend to see what they had made, and they found that every man who had paid in twenty-five dollars—the price of a share, had a few cents over twenty-eight dollarshanded back or credited to him,” he said. “Is not this cruel? Is not this a shame? It is ridiculous to think that they are making money so fast. Did they sell their goods cheaper than the people of Lehi could buy them before? Yes. Did they fetch the goods tothem? O, yes, and yet they made money. ... That comes the nearest to keeping the cake and eating it of anything I know.”
The Lehi Union Exchange preceded church-wide co-operative merchandising, or the formation of Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI), by two months and became a subsidiary of ZCMI.
Under Israel Evans’ directorship, the Exchange had a healthy run until 1880, when it was finally put out of business by the success of the People’s Co-op Institute, which was built on State Street to serve the area around the Utah Southern Railroad Depot.
But in the end, Israel Evans had the ideas and insights to help Lehi institute cooperative merchandising.
Born Oct. 2, 1828, in Hanover Township, Ohio, Evans was the second of seven children born to David Evans and Mary Beck. At age 10, he and his mother survived the Oct. 30, 1838, Hawn’s Mill Massacre in Missouri by hiding in the underbrush. On July 16, 1846, he signed up for the Mormon Battalion and marchedto California before it was disbanded. He married Matilda A. Thomas on Jan. 1, 1849, and they settled in Lehi.
He served his LDS mission to England from 1853-1857. On his return trip, he led the sixth of the ten handcart companies that traveled from Florence, Neb., to the Salt Lake Valley between1856 and 1860. In 1853, he was the first elected city counselor and was the sixth Lehi mayor from 1867-1868. As a state legislator, he pursued legislation, which was passed, to establish the Brigham Young Agricultural College (Utah State University) in Logan.
He and Matilda had nine children. He died May 31, 1896, and is buried in the Lehi City Cemetery.
If you know someone instrumental in Lehi’s building of or success, please submit your 1000-word or less write-up on the person along with photos to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in this series. For more information, call 801-768-1570. The Lehi Historical Society is made possible by generous grants from Lehi City, PARC and the John and Danaca Hadfield Family and by donations from citizens like you. All proceeds help to collect, preserve, protect and share Lehi’s history.