Church History
David O. McKay

“David O. McKay,” Church History Topics

“David O. McKay”

David O. McKay

David O. McKay served as the ninth President of the Church between 1951 and 1970. McKay was born in Huntsville, Utah, in 1873 and grew up active in the Church. After high school, he attended the University of Utah, where he met his future wife, Emma Ray Riggs, and developed a love for education. Despite some initial reticence about receiving a mission call in 1897, he left for the British Isles and was soon assigned to Scotland. Upon returning from his mission, he accepted a job as a teacher at the Weber Stake Academy in 1899, where he worked until 1906. In January 1901, David and Emma Ray were married in the Salt Lake Temple.

David O. McKay playing the piano

David O. McKay playing the piano, surrounded by grandchildren.

In April 1906, McKay was called as an Apostle. During his service, he helped streamline the Sunday School, serving in the General Sunday School superintendency between 1909 and 1934. In 1920 he embarked on a worldwide tour that lasted just over a year, in which he visited the Church’s missions throughout the world, journeying nearly 62,000 miles (over 99,000 kilometers) and reaching Japan, China, southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, India, Egypt, and Europe. Soon after his return to Utah, he was called as president of the European Mission. As mission president, he helped to defuse negative press and improve the Church’s public image in Great Britain and western Europe. In the fall of 1934, he was called and sustained as Second Counselor in the First Presidency. During his tenure, he supervised the development of the Church Welfare Program.

Shortly after the death of President George Albert Smith in April 1951, President McKay was sustained as President of the Church. He immediately addressed the Church’s accelerating international growth by expanding and modernizing the missionary program. As the first Church President to travel by airplane, he recognized the ability of aviation to convey missionaries quickly to all parts of the globe. He also led integration efforts across Church departments and missionary training centers, which standardized curriculum and organization patterns during a period of significant institutional growth.

President McKay traveled extensively to visit with Latter-day Saints across the globe and dedicate new temples in Bern, Switzerland; London, England; and Hamilton, New Zealand. He promoted efforts to correlate Church organizations, departments, and publications, which helped reduce overlap and increase efficiency. His teachings resonated widely, some captured in famous mottos such as “Every member a missionary” and “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” Many remembered him as having a warm personality and a generous demeanor. Illness kept him out of the public eye in the last months of his life, and on January 18, 1970, he passed away at his home.

For more information about the life of David O. McKay, see the Prophets of the Restoration videos on or in the Gospel Library app.

Related Topics: Correlation, Public Relations, Temple Building