From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Rowley, Maxine
From the earliest days of the Church, home industry, in one form or another, has been advocated among the Latter-day Saints. Included were the more common form of cottage industries and also both light and heavy manufacturing of most of the community's consumable goods. Home industry and manufacturing were to promote thrift and self-sufficiency among the members, to serve as a buffer against possible corrosive influences (greed, materialism, inequality), to provide employment for the poor, and to protect the Saints from persecution or to prepare them for further upheavals and expulsions such as had driven the Saints from state to state.
Home industries became Church policy in 1831, with the establishment of the law of consecration, which continued in various forms through the nineteenth century (see United Orders). From 1831 to 1838, the Church sought to provide material necessities for all according to need. The Saints were to limit consumption voluntarily and, when production exceeded demand, to give the surpluses to the Church. Members pledged time, labor, energy, ability, and material possessions for the good of the group. In pioneer Utah it was not unusual for men to be called on missions to devote full time to establish specific industries (see Pioneer Economy).
As European converts immigrated to the Utah Territory during the 1850s, they were encouraged to bring designs and tools for use in manufacturing. Home industries thrived through an abundance of skilled artisans among new immigrant converts. To support a self-sufficient regional economy (autarky), and to discourage a dependence on imports, the Saints developed an exchange economy. Leaders and members gave full patronage to home manufacturers, who were given preferential treatment and verbal support by leaders in Church conferences and in state legislative sessions.
Thus, in the Utah Territory, the Church, the government, and individuals were involved in a collective entrepreneurship that was supportive of immigration and public works programs. The mutual exchange of goods and labor among residents of the region developed the economic foundations of a commonwealth. Goods available in excess of personal needs were exported to bring money into the territory. This approach also involved dedication to building the kingdom of God, so encouragement of home manufacture included caution against exorbitant profits and speculation.
The contributions of women were fundamental to making these economic strategies a success. President Brigham Young encouraged women to study mathematics, accounting, and medicine, among other things, so that they could provide clerking, bookkeeping, shop keeping, health care, and other professional services, thereby releasing the men to perform more strenuous physical labor (JD 13:61).
Both the poor and the not-so-poor were encouraged to live more frugally. Women learned not to waste anything of substance; and the desire, ideally, was for domestic and home manufacture to produce most necessary articles used for food, clothing, and shelter. Such industry was to sustain families religiously, politically, socially, and financially.
In 1867, the Church assigned to the Relief Society the responsibility of teaching the poor to provide for themselves. Female home manufacturing societies supported cottage industries that employed women and children and encouraged families to resist the purchasing of goods not made at home. The Relief Society became a major institutional sponsor of these self-sufficiency programs. For example, approximately 150 units of the Relief Society throughout the territory helped to raise silkworms and to reel and weave the filament produced for the fledgling silk industry (see Silk Culture). The need for production of materials not available locally engendered the establishment of substitute industries. Women experimented with the processing of such native plants as stinging nettle, milkweed, and red top grass for use as textiles.
Brigham Young and other leaders encouraged every branch of manufacture that could be adapted to the climate and the territory. A seemingly endless variety of products included downy beds, molasses, milk products, fruits, vegetables and grains, woolen and silk goods, woven rye and native grass products, all kinds of clothing articles, brooms, ink, leather, felt, alum, coppers, dyes, soap, matches, iron, school books, jewelry, perfume, paper, rope, harnesses, wagons, machinery, sacking, carpets, tools, sugar, flax, bonnets, and lumber.
In 1867-1869, home industries continued to be a major focus of both the Relief Society and the Young Women's retrenchment association. These organizations helped to make homemade articles fashionable and to discourage the purchase of imported goods. The coming of the railroad in 1869 and the resultant influx of outside businesses required a redoubling of these efforts to preserve the independence of the local economy.
Village cooperatives were established to provide the exchange and distribution of the products of home industry. Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) was a major institution for carrying out such strategies, and the department store followed a policy of preference for the home industries of Mormon manufacturers. In addition, stake Boards of Trade were organized to help the cause of home manufacture. As late as 1878, ZCMI had a published policy of providing what was needed for home consumption but exporting the best for profit.
The success of Mormon home industry depended upon geography, economics, and ideology. The expansion of the United States through migration, facilitated by the transcontinental railroad, brought about an effective end to autarky and to LDS protectionist philosophy. Ultimately, however, the economic policies of Brigham Young and the Church had affected all of the mountain West and provided a pattern of economic survival copied and adapted by some other groups as they settled in the Great Basin. Later, the ideals of self-sufficiency, cooperation, and preparedness were reemphasized during the Great Depression of the 1930s and resulted in the implementation of a Church Welfare Services program.
Today, cottage industries still are a source of income, usually secondary and on a small scale, for some LDS households. A retail outlet known as Mormon handicraft was established by the Church in 1937 to provide sale on consignment of high quality, hand-crafted products of household industries. In 1986 the Deseret Book Company purchased Mormon Handicraft and presently operates the store, which is renowned for hand-sewn quilts, needlework, and other craft items.
In harmony with the ideals that originally spawned the advocacy of home industry, Latter-day Saints today are counseled to grow vegetable gardens, make or preserve whatever commodities they can, and avoid debt and materialism. Work (industry) is expected to be the "ruling principle" in the lives of the Saints, and sharing of one's resources in service to the poor is considered a hallmark virtue of a true Saint. [See also Business: Church Participation in Business; Economic History of the Church; Self-Sufficiency (Self-Reliance); Stewardship; Welfare.]