Reed Smoot
Business Leader, Historic Senator, Apostle

Reed Smoot, Business Leader, Senator and Apostle
Reed Smoot, BYA Class of 1880

Brigham Young Academy High School
Class of 1880


Reed Smoot was a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1898 until his death in 1941, and a United States Senator from 1903 to 1932. He was the son of Abraham O. Smoot and Anna Kirstine Mouritsen, and was born on January 10, 1862 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He received his first schooling in Salt Lake City, Utah, under Miss Barbara Romney, daughter of George Romney of the Twentieth Ward, who in 1868 opened a small school in her father's house. The following year the boy attended the Ward school, taught by William Willes, and kept up his attendance until after the school was taken in charge by Karl G. Maeser in 1870.

Two years later, that part of Abraham O. Smoot's family of which Reed was a member moved to Provo, where another portion of the family had resided since 1868, and where Bishop Abraham O. Smoot, former mayor of Salt Lake City, was elected mayor of Provo, and was also appointed president of the Utah Stake. Reed Smoot, his son, continued to live in Provo for many years.

In Provo Reed Smoot attended the Timpanogos branch of the "University of Deseret", a predecessor of Brigham Young Academy. Brigham Young Academy owed it's existence primarily to three men: Brigham Young, the namesake founder; Karl G. Maeser, its educational founder; and to Abraham O. Smoot, father of Reed Smoot, who served as the first president of the Board of Trustees, and who sacrificed financially to keep the school going.

Reed attended with the Academy's first class in January of 1876. He was one of twenty-nine students with which the institution opened.

He passed through the secondary branch, then taught there, and at one time was the only student in the Academic Department. A slight speech impediment kept him from being a star debater in high school.

He was a member of the BYA high school class originally scheduled to graduate in 1879, but eventually graduated in the BYA high school Class of 1880.

He studied principally along commercial lines, and at intervals, mainly during vacations, worked in the Provo Woolen Mills, which his father and others had founded and started up in 1872. There he obtained his first insight into manufacture, a practical insight, for he worked in every department of the factory.

Immediately upon entering the mills, he formed a resolve to one day become their manager; an ambition realized eleven years later.

Upon graduation, and after conferring with his father and his tutor, Principal Maeser, he made up his mind to pursue a commercial career, and with that in view, took a humble position in the Provo Co-operative Institution, the first co-operative store organized in Utah under the impetus of the great co-operative movement planned by President Brigham Young in 1868.

Beginning at the bottom of the ladder, Reed went to work sacking fruit, sorting potatoes, and doing odd jobs about the place, but all the while keeping his eye on the mark he had set.

One day his father entered the store, and in conversation with the superintendent, Robert C. Kirkwood, happened to say, "I see you have Reed here, but I guess he won't stay with you very long." Reed overheard his father's remark, and though not meant unkindly nor said slightingly, it caused the youthful sacker of potatoes to firmly resolve: "I will stay here until I am superintendent of this institution." He kept to that determination, and in September, 1880, less than eighteen months after he uttered the prediction, it was fulfilled. He became superintendent of the Co-operative Institution and remained such until April, 1884, when he was made manager of the Provo Woolen Mills.

His first call to the mission field supplementing a notice previously given came in the year 1880, but was rescinded, as his services were needed as superintendent of the cooperative store.

His second call was in March 1884, when he was again stopped from going abroad, when instead President John Taylor called him on a five-year mission to serve as manager of the Woolen Mills.

A third call, this time to the European Mission, came to him in October 1890, and in November of that year he left home en route for Liverpool, the headquarters of the European Mission.

This was his first travel overseas, except for a brief visit with his father to the Hawaiian Islands from May 2nd to July 19th, 1880; but while on business he had visited nearly every state in the United States.

Prior to going upon his mission he had not been very active in religious matters, but had thrown his whole soul into business. He was fast becoming a man of means and financial influence in the community. In fact, he was so prosperous, and so intensely interested in money making, that it was feared and said by some that Reed Smoot and religion were drifting apart.

Some went so far as to predict that if another mission call came (he had already had two, and had been prevented from going on either one through no fault of his own) he would refuse to accept it. These predictions proved groundless, as was shown by his prompt departure for Europe in the fall of 1890, and by the subsequent great change that came over him in relation to spiritual things.

While abroad he labored principally in the Liverpool office as bookkeeper and emigration clerk, under the presidency of Apostle Brigham Young, Jr. He also visited and spoke at the various conferences.

From July 2nd to August 6th, 1891, Smoot was absent from England, touring the European continent with Dr. James E. Talmage, also a member of the BYA Class of 1879, and Elder Samuel A. King, a member of the BYA high school Class of 1888, and one of the Utah missionaries. King later became one of Utah's most prominent attorneys. The party passed successively through Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France.

While at Liverpool, Elder Smoot became well acquainted with the leading officials of the Guion Steamship line, which had for many years provided most of the "Mormon" emigration from Liverpool. Smoot was treated by them with the great courtesy and consideration.

Mr. George Ramsden, the old-time manager of the Guion shipping agency, made Smoot welcome at his home and showed almost a father's love for him. Mr. John A. Marsh, the head of the Guion company, also took interest in him, and appointed him his agent as a passage broker; a situation which, though it brought no salary, was of advantage to the emigration interests of the Church. While Smoot was acting in this capacity, a change was made by which "Mormon" emigrants, who formerly had only steerage accommodations, were thereafter provided with intermediate accomodations over the Atlantic.

Elder Smoot was called home in 1891 by a telegram from President Wilford Woodruff, which informed him of the serious illness of his father. In response to this summons, he sailed from Liverpool on the 19th of September, and arrived at Provo on October 1, 1891.

For a short time, Reed assisted his father as manager of the Provo Lumber Manufacturing and Building Company, one of the industries that President A. O. Smoot had established, and he also straightened out a contract between that company and the Territorial Insane Asylum.

In the spring of 1892, Smoot resumed his former position as manager of the Provo Woolen Mills, which achieved success under his superintendency.

At the time Elder Smoot went to Europe, he was a married man and had been since September 17, 1884, when he married Miss Alpha M. Eldredge, daughter of Horace S. Eldredge, one of the first seven Presidents of the Seventies. Her mother was Mrs. Chloe A. Redfield Eldredge, daughter of Harlow Redfield, one of the founders of Provo.

Reed Smoot Home in Provo, Utah
Reed Smoot home in Provo, Utah

In Provo, Reed built a handsome home as the residence of himself and wife and their steadily increasing family. They had six children, and their married life was a happy one.

Reed Smoot was not a polygamist, as was his father. He was married first to Alpha M. Eldredge, on September 17, 1884. Their six children included: Harold Reed Smoot; Chloe Smoot; Harlow Eldredge Smoot; Annie K. Smoot; Zella Esther Smoot; and Ernest Winder Smoot. His first wife died in 1928, and on July 2, 1930, he married Mrs. Alice Taylor Sheets.

After his return from England, he launched out in business more extensively than ever, and his spiritual development, which his mission had awakened, likewise continued. He was the main promoter of the Provo Commercial and Savings Bank, and was its first president.

He also engaged considerably in mining, and was made vice president of the famous Grand Central Mining Company; also of the Victoria Mining Company. He erected a number of business blocks, and became a director in the Clark-Eldredge Company of Salt Lake City, as well as in various other important concerns.

In politics Mr. Smoot was a Republican. He was honored with numerous important official positions.

From March 15, 1894, until the advent of Statehood, he served as a director of the Territorial Insane Asylum, by appointment of Governor Caleb W. West, and after Utah entered the Union, he was appointed by Governor Heber M. Wells as a member of the Semi-Centennial Commission, which in 1897 conducted the great Pioneer Jubilee.

Elder Smoot's ecclesiastical record is as follows: He was baptized at eight years of age in the Endowment House at Salt Lake City, and was ordained a Deacon July 15, 1877. In 1879 he was made a Priest, and in April, 1880, an Elder. Four years later he was ordained a Seventy by Elder Abraham H. Cannon, and in April, 1895, was ordained a High Priest under the hands of Pres. Joseph F. Smith. At the same time he was appointed second counselor to Pres. Edward Partridge, who had succeeded Pres. Abraham O. Smoot, deceased, as the presiding authority of the Utah Stake of Zion.

Elder Smoot continued to serve as one of the presidency of that Stake until called to the Apostleship April 8, 1900. The same day he was sustained in that position by the voice of the general conference, and was ordained an Apostle by Pres. Lorenzo Snow the day following.

While a member of the Utah Stake presidency he was appointed to raise means to pay off the debt hanging over the unfinished Stake Tabernacle, and to complete that structure. That duty he performed with his usual promptitude and success, the debt being cancelled and the building completed.

Reed Smoot acted for years as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Brigham Young Academy, and continued as a member of its executive committee. He solicited subscriptions for and was the main instrument in the erection of the new College Hall, a new building at the Academy.

Many knew of the valuable aid Reed Smoot rendered from time to time in a financial and executive way to this or that struggling institution, but few were aware of his private acts of beneficence.

It has been said that ostentatious charity insults the misery it would relieve. Reed Smoot's charity was not of that kind. He would not ask a friend in trouble, "What can I do for you?" or say, "If there is anything you want, let me know;" thus throwing upon the troubled man an additional burden and subjecting him to unnecessary humiliation.

He shrewdly saw the need and tactfully supplied it, without speaking or awaiting a word.

In person, Apostle Smoot was tall and well built, though his unusual height made him appear almost slender in frame.

He moved with the rapid, energetic stride characteristic of the active business man. He was punctual in keeping his appointments, and, as he said, owed his greatest losses in time to the failure of other men to promptly keep theirs.

He possessed a fearless candor, saying exactly what he thought, and yet was courteous, considerate and kind-hearted. While neither a preacher nor a writer, he expressed himself with intelligence, earnestness and humility, both by tongue and pen.

In 1902 Reed Smoot was elected to the United States Senate from the State of Utah. Before seating the senator-elect, the U.S. Senate conducted lengthy hearings into his alleged involvement in plural marriage and into the policy and government of the Church. Few events have had greater impact on the Church and its public image than the highly publicized Smoot Hearings of 1903-1907.

The 1890s had seen the Church pass through some of its most challenging times, including the tumultuous political fight for Utah statehood following the manifesto of 1890 (officially curtailing new plural marriages) and presidential amnesty for Church officers who had practiced polygamy, initiating the process of accommodation and acculturation to mainstream America. Euphoria, however, was short-lived.

The election to the U.S. Senate of Reed Smoot, a highly visible Church leader, unleashed intense anti-Mormon sentiment, which had subsided after statehood. Within a year of his election, more than 3,100 petitions arrived in Washington, D.C., protesting his seating and creating a furor that forced the Senate to examine the case.

The prosecution focused on two issues: Smoot's alleged polygamy and his expected allegiance to the Church and its ruling hierarchy, which, it was claimed, would make it impossible for him to execute his oath as a United States senator. Although the proceedings focused on senator-elect Smoot, it soon became apparent that it was the Church that was on trial.

The case opened with Church leaders subpoenaed to testify as to the power the Church exerted over its members in general and over General Authorities in particular. Investigators probed into past and present polygamous relationships of leaders and lay members alike. They raised questions on points of doctrine that affected how Church members and their leaders interacted with American society at large.

Some of the testimony revealed situations and circumstances that put the Church in an unfavorable light. President Joseph F. Smith received especially harsh treatment in cross-examination. Some members of the Quorum of the Twelve refused to testify, which increased the hostility of senators already concerned about the Church's motives and conduct.

Faced with intense pressure, Church leaders accepted the resignations of apostles Matthias Cowley and John W. Taylor, who were rumored to have performed plural marriages after the Manifesto.

To further evidence good faith, in the annual April conference of 1904 President Smith issued a "Second Manifesto" that added ecclesiastical teeth to the Manifesto of 1890. Excommunication would now follow for those who refused to relinquish the practice of plural marriage.

Despite some damaging testimony, Senator Smoot gradually won support for three reasons: First, his character was found to be above reproach, and charges against him and the Church proved groundless. Second, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was sympathetic to Smoot's position; his motivation was partly personal but also political, as Senator Smoot and a Republican Utah were important to him. Third, the defense convinced a majority of senators that Smoot's apostleship would not impair his ability to put the oath of the senator first in executing his responsibilities.

The victory for Elder-Senator Smoot was a victory for the Church, providing the political legitimacy it had been seeking since 1850. It also launched a thirty-year career in the Senate that saw Senator Smoot reach a pinnacle of political success as one of the two or three most powerful senators in America during the 1920s.

Perhaps more than any other individual, Reed Smoot molded and shaped the positive national image the Church was to enjoy throughout the twentieth century.

He was re-elected to the Senate in 1908, 1914, 1920, and 1926, and served from 4 March 1903 to 3 March 1933.

Because of the Senate seniority system, Smoot served as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee from 1923 to 1933, as well as on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Smoot was recognized as an expert on government finance and public land issues.

He was known for his discipline, hard work, integrity, and thorough preparation. His politics were conservative and pro-business. He is perhaps best known as the joint author of the famous if often criticized Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.

Reed Smoot was active and prominent in the national Republican party. He served as a delegate to the Republican national conventions in 1908, 1912, 1916, 1920, and 1924, and was chairman of the Resolutions Committee at the 1928 Republican National Convention. He also served as chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

He became an accepted member of the inner club of the national Republican establishment and was an advisor to a number of Republican presidents. Smoot was acknowledged as the de facto leader of the Utah Republican party and had considerable influence over Utah state politics and politicians.

Senator Smoot was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election in 1932. He moved back to Salt Lake City in 1933 and retired from active business and political pursuits to devote his full-time efforts to his apostolic calling until his death in 1941.

At the time of his death, he was next in line to succeed the president of the Quorum of the Twelve and third in line to succeed the president of the LDS Church.

Reed Smoot died on February 9, 1941 in Saint Petersburg, Florida, at the home of his step-son, Dr. W. T. Sheets, at the age of 79. He was buried in Provo, Utah.

Sen. Reed Smoot, cover of Time Magazine


SUMMARY: Reed Smoot, Senator from Utah; and Apostle, LDS Church. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, January 10, 1862; moved with his parents to Provo, Utah County, Utah, in 1874; attended Mormon church schools and academies including the Brigham Young Academy high school at Provo as a member of the high school Class of 1879 [there were no college classes at BYA at that time], graduating with the Class of 1880.

He engaged in banking, mining, livestock raising, and in the manufacture of woolen goods; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1902; reelected in 1908, 1914, 1920 and 1926 and served from March 4, 1903, to March 3, 1933; unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1932; chairman, Committee on Patents (Sixtieth Congress), Committee on Printing (Sixty-first and Sixty-second Congresses), Committee on Public Lands (Sixty-second and Sixty-sixth Congresses), Committee on Expenditures in the Interior Department (Sixty-third through Sixty-fifth Congresses), Committee on Public Lands and Surveys (Sixty-seventh Congress), Committee on Finance (Sixty-eighth through Seventy-second Congresses); co-author of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930; moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1933; and retired from active business pursuits.

Smoot served as one of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) and at the time of his death was next in line to succeed the president of the quorum and third to succeed the president.

He died in St. Petersburg, Fla. on a visit there, February 9, 1941; interment in Provo Burial Park, Provo, Utah. The Smoots are Mayflower descendants. Reed Smoot married Alpha May Eldredge of Salt Lake City on 17 September 1884. They were the parents of six children: Harold Reed Smoot, Chloe Smoot, Harlow Eldredge Smoot [I], Annie K. Smoot, Zella Esther Smoot, and Ernest Winder Smoot. Alpha died on 7 November 1928 and Smoot later married Mrs. Alice Taylor Sheets on 2 July 1930. [Note: Reed Smoot diaries published at: http://www.signaturebooks.com/smoot.htm ].

Reed Smoot was the first of the original 29 students to register on the first day of classes at Brigham Young Academy, January 3, 1876. He served on the BYA and BYU Board of Trustees from 1893 to 1938.


Brigham Young - Biographies
BYH Biographies