With foresight, President Brigham Young commissioned W. W. Phelps to secure a printing press for the publication of a newspaper, begun just three years after the settlement of the Salt Lake Valley.
"This people cannot live without intelligence, for it is by obedience to that principle they are to receive their exaltation," was President Young's injunction.That quotation was cited June 15 by President Thomas S. Monson at a luncheon celebrating the 140th anniversary of the Deseret News.
President Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, is chairman of the board of the newspaper, which today, as in the beginning, is owned by the Church.
Some 170 people representing government, business, religious and educational institutions were on hand for the birthday celebration at the Salt Lake Marriott Hotel.
Of the newspaper anniversary observance, President Monson said: "We turn to the past because we came out of it. We speak of the present because we live in it. We plan for the future because a new generation will inherit it."
Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, President Monson said, "We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, `Why not?' " He applied that characteristic to Dr. Willard Richards, counselor to President Young, who was the newspaper's first editor.
"We hold ourselves responsible to the highest Court of truth for our intentions, and the highest Court of equity for our execution," Dr. Richards wrote in the prospectus of the newspaper's first edition. "When we speak, we shall speak freely, without regard to men or party, and when, like other men, we err, let him who has his eyes open correct us in meekness, and he shall receive a disciple's reward."
President Monson shared some of the early history of the newspaper, noting that it faced a dilemma in that much of the news from the outside world came through the mails, which were in constant jeopardy from Indian raids, heavy snows and swollen streams.
"Mails were also infrequent in the beginning," he said. "In one issue of the News in 1854, the editor lamented that there had just arrived in the valley 13 sacks of newspapers, books, wrapping paper and letters, some of which had been mailed about two years before. They reached the valley by ox team freight rather than by regular mail carrier. The editor suspected not Indians or snow or streams, but indifferent postal handlers between Independence and Laramie."
The advent of the Pony Express meant the newspaper could receive news much more quickly, President Monson said, noting that Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address was in the Deseret News eight days after it had been given in front of the unfinished, domeless capitol in Washington D.C.
The Pony Express was succeeded by the transcontinental telegraph that would bring news flashes to the newspaper "in ticker time," President Monson said.
In the early days, patrons called at the newspaper office to obtain their copies, which were produced on a hand-cranked press "a little larger than a clothes wringer" at the rate of two copies a minute. On Sept. 21, 1864, a new system of circulation was inaugurated in which papers were delivered to offices and stores within "a handy distance from the office," and to a key home in each area where copies could be obtained, President Monson related.
He pointed out that the Deseret News received a Pulitzer Prize in 1962, just one of many prestigious awards garnered by the staff over the years.
President Monson paid tribute to Deseret News leaders with whom he has worked: Mark E. Petersen, O. Preston Robinson, E. Earl Hawkes, William B. Smart, Wendell J. Ashton and Wm. James Mortimer. Mortimer, current publisher, also addressed the gathering.