A "Bee"-rief History : The Beehive and Utah

Stained Glass Utah Window from U.S. Capitol

"Utah" Stained Glass Window from U.S. Capitol. Utah State Archives, 1949.

The beehive, its connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the association with Deseret, and its role in Utah have long been romanticized and mythologized, with meanings and importance assigned in retrospect.

Following divine inspiration to restore God's true church, Joseph Smith formally founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830, in Western New York. Members of the Church became known as Saints. They adhered to the teachings of the Book of Mormon, a book of ancient scripture translated by Joseph Smith that recounts God’s dealings with a people in Ancient America.

Nauvoo Agricultural and Manufacturing Association Stock Certificate

Stock Certificate for the Nauvoo Agricultural and Manufacturing Association. Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 2011. 

The Saints frequently moved, due to religious persecution. In 1839, the majority of Saints settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, forming a socio-religious community. The first use of the beehive informally affiliated with the Church, occurred here in 1841 when Joseph Smith organized the Nauvoo Agricultural and Manufacturing Association. Created to set prices and establish standards, the association issued and sold stock certificates. Each one had a beehive centered at the top. While these stock certificates featured a beehive, there were connections made to religious beliefs or practices. Instead, it was used within the traditional context as a symbol of agriculture and industry.

After the murder of Joseph Smith in 1844, the Saints were forced to leave Nauvoo. Under the new leader of the Church, Brigham Young, the main body of members traveled westward, settling in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

First State Flag of Utah

First State Flag of Utah. Utah State Archives, 1998.

The connection between the beehive and the concept of the State of Deseret weakened in 1872 following federal rejection of statehood. However, this decrease first started when new people moved to the territory with the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion in 1869. Finally, after six applications, the federal government granted statehood on January 4, 1896, under the name “Utah” not “Deseret.”

Leaders of the new state embraced the beehive and rejected Deseret in both name and concept.  This was made apparent with the adoption of the beehive on the state flag and seal. No longer the symbol of the “State of Deseret,” the beehive was once again viewed in the traditional sense of work. The inclusion of “Industry” on the flag solidified this connection.

Did you know the First State Flag of Utah is in danger? Click here to learn more. 

Pioneer Stained Glass Window

Pioneer Stained Glass Window with Beehives in the Lower Corners. Utah State Archives, 1978.

The Bees of Deseret

While the honeybee is Utah’s state insect, it is not native to the area. It is not known precisely when honeybees first arrived in Utah. The published journal of pioneer Thomas Bullock gives the earliest account of pioneers traveling with honeybees. Written while camped at Winter Quarters in Nebraska, Bullock’s entry dated May 29, 1848, reads “587 Souls travelling in 179 Wagons with…3 Stand of Bees.”

Buzz over here for a timeline on the history of honeybees in Utah.