Nearly 172 years ago the Mormon pioneers came to Utah. The area wasn't known for anything yet.
Utah became the 45th state in the United States after nearly 50 years as a territory. President Grover Cleveland granted Utah full statehood on Jan. 4, 1896.
Since that time, Utah has had many interesting items officially symbolizing the state. Here are some of the most interesting.
There are a few things most state symbols represent, including a song, motto and dance, and Utah is no different.
State song: “Utah This is the Place” by Sam and Gary Francis. Written in 1996 for Utah’s centennial celebration, it became the state song in 2003 because its lively tune appealed more to the children learning Utah history.
State hymn: “Utah We Love Thee” by Evan Stephens. This song served as the original state song from 1936-2003. It was written in 1895 for celebrations of Utah’s statehood in 1896.
State motto: “Industry.” Industry appears on the Great Seal of the State of Utah, as well as on the state flag.
State folk dance: Square dance. Square dance is defined in state code as “the folk dance that is called, cued, or prompted to the dancers and includes squares, rounds, clogging, contra, line, and heritage dances.” Dancing also served as a fun pastime for early pioneers.
Bee true to your state
From beehive symbols on street signs to several bee-related official symbols, it’s not surprising that Utah is known as the beehive state.
State insect: Honeybee. Utah’s nickname is the beehive state, due to its original title of “State of Deseret.” Deseret, meaning honeybee in the Book of Mormon.
State emblem: The beehive. Also tying in with Utah’s roots, the beehive is a symbol of industry, which is the state motto.
(Unofficial) State nickname: The beehive state. For all the reasons above.
As is true with most states, several of Utah’s symbols are actually living creatures, all with unique ties to the state.
State animal: Elk. Elk herds have been decimated over time, but live mainly in the Rocky Mountains, including in areas of Utah.
State bird: Sea gull. The sea gull, and namely California gull as state bird actually dates back to early state history: in 1848, a swarm of Mormon crickets were quickly devouring the crops of early pioneers when California gulls came in and ate them, saving the crops.
State fish: Bonneville cutthroat trout. This trout became state fish in 1997, replacing the Rainbow Trout. Native to Utah, the Bonneville trout served as an important food source for Native Americans and early settlers.
Grow with it
Plants are also pretty well-represented among the state’s symbols, with six different symbols sprouting from Utah soil.
State flower: Sego lily. This plant’s bulbs were used as food for the Native Americans as well as early pioneers when food was scarce.
State fruit: Cherry. Believe it or not, cherries are actually a major crop in Utah, with orchards dotting the state.
State vegetable: Spanish sweet onion. This veggie is a major crop in several of Utah’s counties.
Historic state vegetable: Sugar beet. In Utah’s early days, sugar production was huge. A blight, followed by foreign pressure, however, led to the elimination of the state’s factories, making this symbol historic for sure.
State grass: Indian rice grass. This grass dots the state and provides food for animals. Its seeds were also used by Native Americans to make flour for bread.
State tree: Quaking aspen. In 2014, the aspen replaced the blue spruce as state tree. Though both are found in the state, aspens are far more prominent, making up 10 percent of the state’s forest cover. Their root system is also considered symbolic of Utahns and how they work together to reach new heights.
It’s all natural
It’s not just plants that are a foundational part of Utah. Its natural resources have also found a way into its symbols.
State gem: Topaz. Considering the amount of topaz found in the Thomas Mountain Range in Juab County, as well as in Toeele and Beaver counties, it’s no wonder this gem is a state symbol.
State mineral: Copper. The Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine has produced copper in the state since 1906, producing more copper overall than any other mine in history.
State rock: Coal. Little known fact: around Christmastime, Santa comes to Utah to stock up on coal for the naughty list. And why wouldn’t he? Coal mines in Emery and Carbon counties have been in operation since the late 1800s.
Looking to the skies
State song? Of course. State bird? A given. But did you know Utah also has astronomical symbols?
State centennial astronomical symbol: The Beehive Cluster, which is an open cluster of around 1,000 stars that can be found in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. It was selected, as you can probably surmise, because of its connection to the state emblem and nickname.
State centennial star: Dubhe. This star is one of the seven bright stars that combine to form the Big Dipper in the Ursa Major constellation. It was chosen during Utah’s centennial in 1996 because it was supposedly 100 light years away, though it’s actually 124.
Stars and stripes forever
Some of Utah’s more unique symbols include a tartan and a flag.
State Centennial Tartan: According to state code, “Utah's state centennial tartan, which honors the first Scots known to have been in Utah and those Utahns of Scottish heritage, shall have a pattern or repeating-half-sett of white-2, blue-6, red-6, blue-4, red-6, green-18, red-6, and white-4 to represent the tartan worn anciently by the Logan and Skene clans, with the addition of a white stripe.”
Utah's state emblem of service and sacrifice of lives lost by members of the military in defense of our freedom: The “Honor and Remember” flag. The flag is described in code as “a red field covering the top two-thirds of the flag, a white field covering the bottom one-third of the flag, which contains the words ‘honor’ and ‘remember,’ a blue star overlaid by a gold star with a thin white border in the center of the flag spanning the red field and the white field, and a representation of a folded United States flag beneath the blue and gold stars with three tongues of flame emanating from its top point into the center of the gold star."
Art and history
Utah’s symbols also give nod to nature and beauty in the state, with fossils, art and land art.
State fossil: Allosaurus. The Allosaurus is not technically art, but definitely an important part of state history. The meat-eating dino lived during the late Jurassic period, and Utah’s Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry has been the finding grounds for more Allosaurus fossils than anywhere else. The Utah Museum of Natural History also holds the world’s largest collection of Allosaurus fossils.
State works of art: Native American rock art. This artwork dots the monuments across southern Utah and is considered one of its greatest historical treasures.
State work of land art: Spiral Jetty. The Spiral Jetty is considered an earthwork sculpture and was constructed in 1970 by American sculptor Robert Smithson. It consists of mud, basalt rocks and salt crystals that coil from the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake.
In the kitchen
If you didn’t know that a state cooking pot was a thing, well, now you do.
State cooking pot: Dutch oven. These heavy metal cooking pots served as a key cooking tool for early pioneers. And true to that heritage, the World Championship Dutch Oven Cookoff is held in Utah every year near Logan.
(Unofficial) State snack: Jell-O. Though not officially listed with the other symbols in Utah state code, a state Senate resolution recognized Jell-O brand gelatin as a favorite snack of Utah. The resolution cited a variety of reasons, including Jell-O’s introduction to the country in 1897, one year after Utah became a state. It also mentioned that Utah has been the number one per capita consumer of Jell-O for many years, the gelatin is commonly used in recipes across the state, that a signature collectable 2002 Winter Olympic pin featured a bowl of green gelatin, and more than 14,000 signatures were collected in support of the state snack designation.
Some Utah symbols are just a category unto themselves, including these.
State firearm: The M1911 automatic pistol. The gun was designed by John M. Browning, who was born in Ogden.
State railroad museum: Ogden Union Station. This station used to serve as the junction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads. It now houses a variety of state historical museums.
Utah's state winter sports: Skiing and snowboarding. This one’s pretty much a given, considering the “Ski Utah” license plates, “Greatest snow on earth” advertisements and ample number of top notch ski resorts.
(Unofficial) State slogan: “Utah: Life Elevated.” The phrase was coined to market the state for tourism and business, and gives reference to Utah’s mountains, snow and outdoor opportunities.