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Bamberger Family Collections Chronicle Turn of the Century Industry

By Nicole Cowdell


Simon Bamberger made history in the early 1900s when, while establishing a railroad empire and building one of the first amusement parks in the western U.S., he became the first non-Mormon, first Democrat, and only Jewish governor in the state of Utah.

Originally from Germany, Bamberger immigrated to the United States when he was 14 years-old. After several moves, he eventually settled in Utah in the late 1860s. He lived in Ogden and invested in a local hotel; however, a string of smallpox outbreaks caused the venture to fail. Due to the spread of the disease, he decided a move was best and made his way down south to Salt Lake City.

Unshaken by his failed hotel investment, in 1871 Bamberger invested in the Centennial Eureka Mine, which proved to be a wise decision. Two years later, the mine struck a vein of silver earning Bamberger a fortune worth millions. Bamberger wished to continue his good fortune with a mine in San Juan County; however, he discovered there was no viable railroad between Salt Lake and San Juan. He took his mine investment profits and set out to build the rail line he needed. When asked about his developing railroad, Bamberger explained, “I will build and equip the best and most modern electrical road that science can produce.”

Portrait of Simon Bamberger. Bamberger held office in the Utah State Senate from 1904 to 1913.

However, the mines down south weren’t as plentiful as Bamberger would have hoped, but, no stranger to missteps, he took the news in stride. He instead turned directions and aimed north. The railroad from Salt Lake City to Ogden took a few years to complete, but once done, it was the success Bamberger had been working toward. Simply referred to as “the Bamberger,” the railroad became one of the most popular methods of transportation in the late 1800s and early 1900s and helped solidify Bamberger’s place in Utah.

Bamberger constructed a railroad operation between Salt Lake and Ogden in the late 1800's.

Ever the entrepreneur, Bamberger continued his investments by building one of the state’s first amusement parks on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Established in 1886, Lake Park quickly became one of the state’s biggest attractions. The best way to get there? The Bamberger Railways, of course!

Lake Park’s success dwindled though as the shores of the Great Salt Lake retreated further each year. Bamberger recognized the park’s approaching expiration date and bought a plot of land in Farmington, UT. He moved the attraction to this new area and renamed it “Lagoon.”

Now one of the most popular amusement parks in the West, Lagoon was an instant hit with the locals. The park featured roller skating, bowling alleys, a popular dance pavilion, and a swimming pool filled with “water fit to drink.” In 1906, the park unveiled its iconic carousel, and 15 years later, the roarin’ twenties brought the first roller coaster to the park, both pieces remain in operation today. Throughout all the changes that Bamberger’s park went through, one thing remained consistent… The Bamberger Railroad was the best way to get you to the fun.

Originally named "Lake Park," Lagoon moved to its current location in 1896. Lagoon's Lake was a popular attraction that clamied it's swimming water was fit enought to drink from. Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
Lagoon started as "Lake Park" on the shores on the Great Salt Lake and moved inward to Farmington, UT in 1896. The park's iconic carousel has been on the grounds since 1906 and remains in operation today. Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

During World War II, the park was temporarily closed and after reopening in 1946, it was leased to the Freed Brothers (Robert, Daniel, David and Peter) who ran operations for 30 years. Once the initial lease was up, the Freed family bought the park outright in 1983 and have remained park owners ever since.

Over the years, the Bamberger Railroad constantly improved upon itself, introducing more lines and faster, electric rails in 1910, but in the late 1950s, the railroad was sold to a larger company in Texas. Soon after signing the papers, the new owners ceased all operations due to budgetary concerns.

Never one to settle on just one endeavor, Bamberger ran for political office in 1903. He spent a decade in the state senate before switching gears to run for governor. At the age of 70, Simon Bamberger was the oldest person to be elected Utah’s governor. Bamberger held the position from 1917-1921 and he was the first Jewish governor and, to this day, the only Jewish person to head the State of Utah. Additionally, he was the first non-Mormon and the first Democratic governor to be elected in the state.

One of the first electric railways in the state, the Bamberger Railroad ushered patrons to Lagoon.

Never one to settle on just one endeavor, Bamberger ran for political office in 1903. He spent a decade in the state senate before switching gears to run for governor. At the age of 70, Simon Bamberger was the oldest person to be elected Utah’s governor. Bamberger held the position from 1917-1921 and he was the first Jewish governor and, to this day, the only Jewish person to head the State of Utah. Additionally, he was the first non-Mormon and the first Democratic governor to be elected in the state.

Bamberger was a respected man and a well-liked politician. He held a deep affection for Utah and devoted his life to improving the quality of life for its citizens. “It was here in the free and open, whole-hearted, broadminded, generous West, and surrounded by the hospitable, home-loving people of this mountain empire that I learned the real message of America and became a true American citizen,” said Bamberger during his inauguration speech in 1917.

During his time in office, Bamberger was instrumental in several key pieces of legislation. An adamant supporter of prohibition, one of the first bills passed under his leadership was a state-wide ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol. He also helped to establish the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Public Health, the Governor’s Water Rights Commission, and passed a Worker’s Compensation Act during his term as governor.

Bamberger was an entrepreneur, a risk-taker, and the epitome of The American Dream. As an immigrant, Bamberger was determined to make America his home. He married Ida Mass in 1881 and they went on to have four children; Sidney, Julian, Elsa, and Helen. His legacy lives on at the J. Willard Marriott Library, where documents, photographs, letters, and other materials chronicling his journey are housed in Special Collections.

Portrait of Ida Maas. Simon and Ida married in 1881 and had four children; Sidney, Julian, Elsa and Helen. Photo courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.
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