Richard L. Jensen
Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994
Initiated in 1849 primarily to help Mormon refugees from Nauvoo, Illinois, migrate to Utah, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company (PEF) also became a major instrument for gathering Latter-day Saint converts to Utah from abroad. It assisted some 26,000 immigrants–about 36 percent of the approximately 73,000 Latter-day Saints who emigrated from Europe to the United States between 1852 and 1887.
In principle, funds the company expended on immigration were considered loans to those immigrants who benefited from the aid. The repayment of those loans was to provide a perpetual source of assistance for others. In practice, however, only about one-third of the PEF’s beneficiaries repaid their loans in full, sometimes with interest; about one-third made partial repayment; the rest repaid nothing. Donations to the PEF in Europe and the United States, although sometimes substantial, were never sufficient to render the assistance Latter-day Saint leaders envisioned. Therefore, infusions of cash, credit, and services from other sources, including commissions received by church agents as passenger brokers, were administered under the auspices of the PEF, which became the primary institution around which Latter-day Saint immigration to Utah from abroad was organized from 1853 to 1856.
By late 1856 emigration had so exhausted the resources of the PEF and strained those of the Mormon Church that Brigham Young insisted that PEF operations be confined to the resources of the company itself. Thereafter, the means made available by donations and repayments enabled the PEF to assist a modest number of emigrants with the cost of their ocean voyage and, beginning in 1869, with railroad fare to Utah. In addition, for six years in the 1860s the pioneer system of labor tithing was tapped by each spring sending ox teams, wagons, and teamsters from Utah to a frontier outfitting point to haul immigrants back. Immigrants who benefited from this assistance by the “Church trains” signed promissory notes to the PEF. Theoretically, the PEF was to repay the church; but in practice this became a church investment that would yield other than monetary returns. Nearly two-thirds of all beneficiaries of the PEF were passengers of the “Church trains.”
In 1868, benefiting from a special fund-raising drive and additional resources from Europe, the PEF helped bring 725 immigrants all the way to Utah. The company also aided more than 100 immigrants annually for the entire trip in 1869, 1871 to 1875, and from 1878 to 1881.
Brigham Young was the first president of the PEF. He was succeeded by Horace S. Eldredge in 1870 and by Albert Carrington in 1873. Beginning in the late 1850s, the LDS Church itself assumed primary responsibility for the organization of its immigration, and church immigration personnel were no longer considered mainly PEF agents. The church made other arrangements whereby relatives and friends in the Intermountain West could provide assistance to prospective immigrants in addition to any PEF aid available. By 1869 this private assistance eclipsed PEF aid. The last PEF aid was provided to a small group of Icelandic immigrants in 1887. Thereafter, in accordance with the provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, the PEF was disincorporated and its assets were surrendered to the federal government. The assets were mainly promissory notes totaling more than $400,000 but virtually worthless under provisions of the statute of limitations.
See: Gustive O. Larsen, Prelude to the Kingdom (1947); Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom (1958); P.A.M. Taylor, Expectations Westward: The Mormons and the Emigration of their British Converts in the Nineteenth Century (1966); William Mulder, Homeward to Zion: The Mormon Migration from Scandinavia (1957); and Richard L. Jensen, “Steaming Through: Arrangements for Mormon Emigration from Europe, 1869–1887,” Journal of Mormon History 9 (1982).