Heber M. Wells

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Heber M. Wells served as the first governor of the State of Utah from January 6, 1896, to January 2, 1905. Utah gained statehood on January 4, 1896.

During the territorial period of Utah, citizens did not elect their governors. Rather, the president of the United States appointed them. Brigham Young was the first territorial governor, but subsequent governors came from outside Utah territory and were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1]

In 1895, Wells defeated Utah Republican Party chairman Charles Crane and former territorial governor Arthur Lloyd Thomas for the Republican nomination for governor. In 1900 he was reelected. He was defeated in the 1904 election.

Understandably, his first term dealt with the formation and organization of the new state government, including courts and executive branch departments.

Wells was born on August 11, 1859, to Daniel H. and Martha Wells. His father was a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ and served as mayor of Salt Lake City.

Wells graduated from the University of Utah in 1875 and began his career in banking. He was manager of the Utah Savings & Trust Company and a director of the State Bank of Utah. He was deeply involved in saving Utah’s banks during the panic of 1893.

He was politically active as well and was recorder and auditor of Salt Lake City from 1882 to 1890. In 1887, he was secretary of Utah Territory’s constitutional convention. He was elected to serve on the city board of public works in 1890 and 1893. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1892. Significantly, he was a delegate to the 1895 convention that created the state constitution that resulted in Utah’s admission to the union as the 45th state.

In 1905, Wells returned to his banking career. He also served as Salt Lake City’s Commissioner of Parks and Property from 1913 to 1917. He became editor of the Salt Lake City Herald in 1919, and in 1933, was the associate editor of the Deseret Evening News.

For a time he served with the United States Shipping Board Merchant Fleet Corporation, first as assistant treasurer and then as treasurer.

Wells was the father of seven children. His first wife, Mary Beatie, whom he married in 1880, died in 1888. He then married Teresa Clawson, who died in 1901. In 1903, he married Emily Katz. He died on March 12, 1938.

Wells’s sister Emily married Heber J. Grant.