Agency History #180


The Utah Centennial Commission (1939-1948) was created by the Twenty-Third Legislature as an independent state agency through legislation passed March 8, 1939 (Senate bill no. 276, Laws of Utah, 1939, chapter 132), which went into effect July 24, 1939. When the state government was reorganized in 1941 (Senate bill no. 19, Laws of Utah, 1941, First Special Session, chapter 42), the commission came under the control of the Department of Publicity and Industrial Promotion (Agency #784). These acts were codified in Utah Code Annotated, 1943, 82C-8-1 through 8.

Concerned that it might be advisable to suspend activities for the duration of the war, members of the executive committee consulted with Governor Herbert B. Maw. With the governor's approval, the commission decided on June 5, 1942, to suspend its work but remain intact so that work could be resumed subject to the call of the chairman. Upon receipt of a letter of re-activation from Governor Maw dated November 10, 1944, the commission recommenced meeting on November 24, 1944. Centennial programs produced, sponsored, or endorsed by the commission continued through December 1947. The commission terminated activity in early 1948.

The commission's purpose was to honor the pioneers who settled Utah by planning and arranging a fitting centennial observance in the year 1947.


In the enacting legislation, the commission was charged "to commemorate the advent of the pioneers into Salt Lake Valley, to portray fittingly the natural resources and scenic wonders of Utah, the prehistoric culture of the west, the development of irrigation, farming, mining, forestry, transportation, culture and the arts."

The commission was authorized to organize an exposition (originally envisioned as a world's fair but scaled down due to restrictions encountered during World War II); display exhibits and award prizes and other awards; arrange for such public entertainment as historical pageants, musical, dramatic, educational programs, and athletic events and sports attractions; organize sponsoring groups throughout the state; and publicize Utah's national parks and monuments. The commission was active in instituting and promoting beautification projects throughout the state (which were coordinated with over 140 local committees), entering a centennial float in the 1947 Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California, on New Year's Day, and producing centennial parades in Salt Lake City on July 23 and 24. The commission also sponsored events produced by outside organizations by providing financial assistance and endorsed other events deemed worthy of inclusion in the official centennial program.


The commission was composed of fifteen members, each appointed to a ten-year term. Officers included a chairman and vice chairman. Gus P. Backman served as executive secretary from October 26, 1939, until his resignation on June 6, 1941, when the detailed work of organization was complete. In April of 1945, Mr. Backman was appointed acting director; and in June of 1945, he was appointed permanent director. The director along with an assistant director handled day-to-day administrative duties. Commission members also served as chairmen of the various committees.


Commission members were appointed July 25, 1939, by Governor Henry H. Blood. Members first met on September 17, 1939. An executive committee was set up on October 13, 1939, to facilitate commission action. In addition, five other committees were formed: Building and Grounds; Finance; Intrastate Planning; Interstate and Federal Planning; and Legislative, Publicity, and Advertising. This structure was revised from time to time as experience indicated the need for change. Eventually, six committees were established, each serving as a policy making body for a corresponding administrative division. The committees on arts, sports, and beautification advised exclusively their corresponding administrative units; the committees on finance and publicity and promotion advised all administrative units, though more particularly the division on finance and accounts in the one instance and the division on publicity and intrastate planning in the other. The Division on the Exposition was the State Fair Association (# 367) acting as an agent of the Centennial Commission through the centennial director. The committee on history had no administrative counterpart but worked through the centennial director with whatever divisions might be concerned. Each committee was composed of various sub-committees. Beginning in March of 1946, directors of the various administrative divisions and general staff members were employed as the need for them arose.


On December 11, 1855, Brigham Young, First Governor of the Territory of Utah, spoke as follows to the Fifth Territorial Legislature in the original capitol building at Fillmore:

"Be it our aim so to direct our political affairs as to promote union, integrity and independence to the Territory, industry, knowledge and truth to the people. Thus shall we secure to ourselves peace and freedom, and transmit to our children those free institutions which we received as a rich legacy from our fathers."

We, the Eighth Governor and members of the Twenty-seventh Legislature of the State of Utah, in commemorative session at Fillmore this eighth day of March, 1947, do hereby affix our signature in re- affirmation of the noble principles by our first chief executive.


Members of the Senate

Members of the House


David O. McKay, chairman

John F. Fitzpatrick, vice chairman

Gus P. Backman, director

A. Hamer Reiser, secretary

S.O. Bennion (died 1945)

Frederick P. Champ

Delbert M. Draper

A.O. Ellett

Judge James A. Howell

Mrs. Rosella F. Larkin

Donald P. Lloyd

Charles R. Mabey

Nephi L. Morris (died 1944)

Mrs. Mary R. Mower (resigned 1939)

I.A. Smoot

John M. Wallace

David H. Thomas (1944-1947)

Ward C. Holbrook

Brigham S. Young (1945-1947)

COMPILED BY: W. Glen Fairclough, Jr., November 1996


Thomas, George. Utah State Government and Twenty-Seven Federal Agencies. Salt Lake City: The Deseret News Press, 1944.

Utah. Centennial Commission. General Report 1947 Utah Centennial Commission. 1948 [Series no. 2228].

Utah. Legislature. Laws of Utah. 1939, Chapter 132; 1941 (1st S.S.), Chapter 42; 1947, Chapter 147, House Joint Memorial no. 1, House Joint Resolution no. 10. [Series no. 83155].

Utah. Legislature. Utah Code Annotated, 1943. Chapter 8, Title 82C, Sections 1-8; vol. 5, pp. 145-158. [Series no. 83238].

Utah. Lieutenant Governor. Governor's Executive Orders and Proclamations, 1896-1976. [Series no. 85039]; July 25, 1939; March 30, 1946.

Utah. Secretary of State. Public Documents Serial Set, 1896-1956. [Series no. 240]; no. 21, Biennial report of the Department of Publicity and Industrial Development, 1940-42, pp. 5, 23; no. 20, Biennial report of the Department of Publicity and Industrial Development, 1942-44, pp. 5, 34; no. 24, Biennial report of the Department of Publicity and Industrial Development, 1944-46, p. 40; no. 9, Biennial report of the State Fair Association, 1944-46, p. 5; no. 9, Biennial report of the State Fair Association, 1946-48, pp. 6-10.

Page Last Updated July 2, 2003.