As preparations began in earnest for the 1903 World’s Fair, the 45 American states each laid claim to plots of land that would serve as their home during the once-in-a-decade event.
Each claim offered an opportunity for celebration, although the states approached these “stakings” in different ways. Utah, the 45th and, at the time, last state admitted to the Union, seemed to view the fair as more of a debutante’s first ball.
That approach made sense, since no other state had been admitted to the Union since the 1893 World’s Fair, especially one with as fraught a history of failed statehood attempts or the accompanying shroud of mystery that the predominantly Mormon population inspired.
Thus, the state’s delegation for the ceremony included nearly every prominent political, civic, and religious leader. Gov. Heber M. Wells spoke about the ability of Utahns to plant the American flag and reclaim land from the wilderness and lauded the “wonderful resources” of the state.
According to the World’s Fair Bulletin, other speakers, including U.S. Sen. Reed Smoot, spoke of their patriotism and “declared that no State in the Union was more loyal than Utah, nor was there any which would do more to make the fair a success.”
The ceremony ended “as the assemblage sang ‘America,’ while surrounding the flag of Utah, which was raised to mark the formal acceptance of the ground.”
Although not mentioned in the bulletin, that flag was actually the state’s first. Wells ordered it because he recognized the symbolic necessity of flying a flag for the world to see, and understood that if done well, it would immediately tell everyone that Utah embraced America and had plenty to offer their fellow countrymen.
And done well it was, as can still be seen in the historic collections of the Utah Division of State History.
The flag is made of fine silk from worms raised in Utah. These worms, which fed on imported Mulberry trees, created silk used commonly by housewives in the late 19th century. Although not unique to Utah, the local silk reinforced a message of the state’s self-sufficiency and economy.
The dominant design for the flag was the official state seal, which included a few important elements:
- Beehive:The symbol of industriousness and hard-work.
- 1847: The year the Mormon settlers arrived in Utah.
- 1896: The year of statehood, made more prominent on this flag than 1847.
- Sego Lilies: The state flower and a symbol of peace.
- Stars and Stripes: The inclusion of the stars and stripes on state flags is actually rare, but Utah’s leaders wanted to make their patriotism clear.
- Eagle: The bald eagle signifies national protection.
Nearly all of the materials and work for the flag was done in the state. The Utah State Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who oversaw the flag’s creation, contracted with ZCMI to make the flag. The embroidery was done by a Swedish immigrant named Agnes Fernelius.
Although no definitive records exist, it is likely that one of the elements not locally produced was the blue dye. By 1903, chemical dyes were commercially available and, generally speaking, natural dyes had fallen out of favor. More than a century later, that very imported dye is causing the flag to degrade — a threat exacerbated by the current storage areas for historical artifacts, which lacks the needed temperature controls to minimize chemical reactions.