In July 1847 during the first Sabbath-day sermon delivered in the Salt Lake Valley, Apostle George A. Smith declared that a temple in the valley would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established” in the last days.1 Shortly thereafter, Brigham Young saw in vision the place where this temple should be built.2 More than four decades later, the Saints completed and dedicated the Salt Lake Temple, a prominent anchor for their Zion community.
As part of the groundbreaking ceremony on February 14, 1853, musicians performed the well-known Scottish tune “Auld Lang Syne,” signaling a new era.3 On April 6, the temple’s cornerstones were laid and dedicated. Truman O. Angell, a carpenter turned architect, worked with Brigham Young to design a building that fulfilled Young’s vision. Like the Nauvoo Temple, the Salt Lake Temple design included symbols meant to represent the priesthood, temple covenants, and the plan of salvation.4
Determined to build the temple of the “best materials that [could] be obtained in the mountains of North America,” the Saints ultimately decided to build the temple of local granite.5 Those who passed by Temple Square noted the “clattering sounds” of chisels continuously striking stones, “cheering those who have an ear for such music,” as stonecutters shaped rock for placement in the temple walls.6
During the first 20 years of construction, workers hauled stone 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the temple block by wagon teams. Inclement weather and poor harvests slowed an already plodding and laborious process. Weaknesses discovered in the footing of the temple foundation required the removal of completed portions of the basement walls and the replacement of parts of the footing, further delaying construction for approximately five years. Wards and priesthood quorums cooperated to supply a labor force to maintain stonecutting and hauling personnel. The arrival of railroads in the 1870s provided a faster and more reliable way to transport stone.
Latter-day Saints in Utah Territory completed the St. George Utah Temple in 1877, the Logan Utah Temple in 1884, and the Manti Utah Temple in 1888. The practical knowledge they gained while building these temples inspired new floor plans for temple ordinances.7 The interior plans of the Salt Lake Temple subsequently changed from those originally directed by Brigham Young to those developed by Wilford Woodruff. Joseph Don Carlos Young, a professionally trained engineer and one of Brigham Young’s sons, oversaw the completion of the spires and the interior of the temple. He incorporated new technologies, including a steel frame, electric lighting, steam heating, and elevators.8
During the last years of construction, the United States federal government aggressively prosecuted Latter-day Saints who were practicing plural marriage, and new laws threatened to disenfranchise the Church of its temples.9 After Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto in 1890 announcing his intention to cooperate with authorities, the Saints renewed their efforts to complete the temple.10 Once the exterior was finished, crowds gathered in and around Temple Square on April 6, 1892, for an elaborate capstone ceremony in which an approximately 12-foot (nearly 4-meter) statue identified as the angel Moroni was placed upon the east center spire.11 The moment also marked the beginning of a sprint to finish the interior by the 40th anniversary of the temple’s groundbreaking.
Church leaders wanted all Latter-day Saints to join in the dedication of the temple to the Lord. To accommodate all who wished to attend, they held sessions twice a day for nearly 20 days, including sessions for children. Prior to each session, attendees toured the building. President Wilford Woodruff offered the dedicatory prayer during the first session on April 6, 1893. Many who attended the services described feeling the Lord’s acceptance of the temple and noted heavenly manifestations.12
A major renovation in the 1960s upgraded mechanical and air conditioning systems, and an extensive cleaning of the temple’s exterior in 1993 restored the stonework to its vivid granite tone. Another significant renovation was announced in 2019 to stabilize the structure against seismic activity and redesign the surrounding grounds.13