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10 things you didn't know about the founding of the Deseret News

The first page of the first edition of the Deseret News published on June 15, 1850.
The first page of the first edition of the Deseret News published on June 15, 1850.
The Deseret News

On June 15, 1850, Willard Richards and his staff printed 220 copies of the first edition of the Deseret News, the first news organization in Utah.

Richards began the paper by listing the proposed purpose of the Deseret News, if it garnered the 300 subscribers it needed to get published.

“We propose to publish a small weekly sheet, as large as our local circumstances will permit, to be called ‘Deseret News,’ designed originally to record the passing events of our State, and in connexion, refer to the arts and sciences, embracing general education, medicine, law, divinity, domestic and political economy, and everything that may fall under our observation, which may tend to promote the best interest, welfare, pleasure and amusement of our fellow citizens.”

In 1997, President Thomas S. Monson stands with a replica of the first Deseret News press.
In 1997, President Thomas S. Monson stands with a replica of the first Deseret News press.

Here are some things you might not know about that first edition of the Deseret News:

1. The newspaper was named the Deseret News after the State of Deseret, which was a provisional territory proposed by settlers but never recognized by the United States. The word “deseret” comes from the word for “honeybee” in The Book of Mormon.

2. The first Deseret News motto was, “Truth and Liberty.” Richards elaborates on this motto in the next paragraph:

“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.”

The first home of the Deseret News in 1850 was in an adobe building that served as the News' headquarters and the first coin mint in the West.
The first home of the Deseret News in 1850 was in an adobe building that served as the News' headquarters and the first coin mint in the West.
Utah State Historical Society

3. The first subscriptions were $2.50 for six months, or 15 cents a copy.

4. The first edition was published in pamphlet form, 7¼ inches by 9¾ inches.

The staff believed that “a paper that is worth printing, is worth preserving; if worth preserving, it is worth binding,” so someday the subscribers’ “children’s children may read the doings of their fathers, which otherwise might have been forgotten.”

5. The first edition was printed on a hand-cranked Ramage press that W. W. Phelps had purchased in Boston and hauled across the plains by wagon. There is a replica of that press in the Deseret News office and in the Crandall Historical Printing Museum, with the original in the LDS Church History Museum.

Willard Richards, daguerreotype.
Willard Richards, daguerreotype.
Courtesy of Church History Library

6. Richards, the first editor of the Deseret News, was born in Massachusetts. He initially enjoyed a career practicing medicine. After he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he became Joseph Smith’s private secretary and church historian, and was in Carthage, Illinois, when Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were killed. He was also the secretary of Utah Territory, postmaster of Salt Lake City and the second counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church under Brigham Young.

7. One of the main issues covered in the first edition was the Senate debates about slavery and the union. One spectator was quoted, saying he was “confident blood will be spilt on the floor of the House before the session closes.”

Other issues were discussed, somewhat briefly. “Cholera has again appeared in the States. Hungary has fallen. General peace in Europe: and the present appearance is like a calm before a tornado,” the paper reads.

8. The paper could also be purchased with flour, wheat, cornmeal, butter, cheese, tallow or pork.

9. The first edition also included the public announcement of the death of Oliver Cowdery, former scribe for Joseph Smith and an early church leader.

10. The Deseret News used to include a poetry section. The first poem was written under the name “B” and was more of a jingle promoting the paper than a work of literary mastery.

“To My Friends in the Valley

“Let all who would have a good paper,

Their talents, and time ne’er abuse;

Since ‘tis said, by the wise and the humored,

That the best in the world is the News.

Then ye who so long have been thinking

What paper this year you will choose,

Come trip gaily up to the office,

And subscribe for the “Deseret News.”

And now, dearest friends, I will leave you;

This counsel, I pray you, don’t lose;

The best of advice I can give you

Is, pay in advance for the News.”

The editor added a note to this poem: “This is the first poetic offering we have received, and, for aught we know, friend B’s first attempt. Try again.”