What general conference looked like over 100 years ago and how it’s changed

President Taft was welcomed by an overflow crowd of old folks from Utah in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on October 1911. Credit: Ronald Fox collection
A view of the Salt Lake Valley from the steps of the Utah State Capitol on April 6, 1917. The view includes the Hotel Utah, center, the Salt Lake Temple, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Credit: Provided by Ronald Fox, Provided by Ronald Fox
The morning session of the 185th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Credit: Alan Gibby, For the Deseret News, For the Deseret News
A crane used in building the Assembly Hall for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints collapsed when a rare and sudden tornado swept through downtown Salt Lake City Wednesday, August 11, 1999. Deseret News Photo by Gary McKellar. Credit: GARY MCKELLAR, DESERET NEWS, DESERET NEWS
Sunday April 2, 2000 LDS General Conference morning session in new conference building. Conference Center 10th anniversary. Friday, March26, 2010, Photo by Rudy Zamora/Deseret News Credit: Greg Hill, Greg Hill
An early general conference of the Church was held at Fayette, New York, in the Peter Whitmer home, a re-creation of which is pictured here. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

What did general conference look like 50 years ago? Or 100 years ago? This annual and semiannual tradition of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has seen many changes over the years ever since a group of 27 Church members gathered in the Peter Whitmer farmhouse in Fayette, New York, on June 9, 1830.

While the gathering locations have changed from quickly constructed boweries to tabernacles to the 21,000-seat Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Latter-day Saints have always been eager to gather together and hear Church leaders speak to them.

Sometimes, circumstances change how and when general conference is held by the Church. Outbreaks of the flu, war, and even reasons to celebrate have set general conference in a new venue or cancelled it altogether.

For much of the Church’s history, general conference was a 3-day affair, with sessions held on April 6 regardless of whether or not it was a weekday. Special sessions were devoted to auxiliary programs and welfare needs as well. In October 1867, the congregation even voted to extend general conference an additional day.

In the early days of the Church, leaders who spoke at general conference often did so extemporaneously, and the only way to hear them was to listen in person or wait for a summary to be published. As technology has advanced, the audience for general conference has grown. In 2012, it was estimated that 595,000 households in North America watched the Sunday morning session on television.

The first full general conference report was published in the Deseret News on April 6, 1850, thanks to reporter George D. Watt learning shorthand and transcribing all of the talks. Today, anyone can open the Gospel Library app on their phone within days of the final session, and watch and read their favorite conference talks.

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