In 1868, while manufacturing and retailing cooperatives were thriving in Brigham City, the LDS Church leadership wanted to expand that model throughout the Utah Territory to protect, strengthen, and unite the Saints economically, and prepare them to eventually live in United Orders.
General Conference that October focused on preparing the Saints to support a church-wide roll-out of the Brigham City model. Like Brigham City, the Church cooperative system had a central co-op store, selling locally-produced and imported goods at un-inflated prices. Each community established a co-op store as well.
They named the central store, Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institute, or ZCMI. Local manufacturing co-ops were incorporated into the network and sported signs pronouncing, “Holiness to the Lord. Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institute”.
True to form, the poor Saints were given first option to buy as much stock as they could so that the dividends could be spread out among all the people. The rich among the Saints were told not to buy large quantities of stock but were directed to use their resources to launch manufacturing enterprises to benefit everyone.
Each ZCMI store was organized more like a joint-stock company than a modern-day cooperative, but they did deserve the name because the profits went directly back into strengthening each community’s economy through dividends and the establishment of additional manufacturing cooperatives.
Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington reported that ZCMI and the local cooperatives used their profits to launch cooperative clothing factories, “butcher shops, blacksmith shops, dairies, carding machines, gristmills, sawmills, tanneries, boot and shoe shops, molasses mills, furniture shops” etc.
In 1869, President Young declared, “This cooperative movement is only a stepping stone to what is called the Order of Enoch….” And, nearly five years into the cooperative movement, an official letter, signed by the First Presidency and the Twelve, was circulated that proclaimed the ZCMI network of cooperatives to be a smashing success.
Unfortunately, the Church’s prosperous economic engine was largely dismantled less than twenty years later by the enforcement of the US Government’s anti-polygamy laws. The Church had to be satisfied with just being a religion and not a true theocracy with a Zion-like cooperative economy. However, D&C 58:26-28 suggests we today could follow the example of these brave economic pioneers, organize ourselves, enjoy the benefits of Cooperative Free Enterprise, and prepare ourselves to live as one.