"If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?" Will Rogers

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I have heard that Brigham Young had the forseight to predict future inventions like the elevator and air conditioning, and that accomodations were made for these technological advancements in the planning and construction of the Salt Lake Temple. It this true?

- (Sleepless in SLC)

A: Dear Sleepless in SLC,

There's an excellent article about this by Paul C. Richards in the 1996-97 issue of BYU Studies called, "The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying It Out in Their Minds." I recommend that you read it if you would like more information.

Yes, there are elevator shafts and spaces for electrical wiring in the structure of the Salt Lake Temple, but the temple was completed in the latter half of the nineteenth century when many of these modern innovations were already around. The Saints put a great deal of thought and effort into the planning and construction of the temple, and they did their research.

The Saints' help with the Transcontinental Railroad telegraph system allowed them firsthand experience with electricity that could then be transferred to the temple construction. Furthermore, because of the manner of construction, they were able to make provisions for electricity fairly late in the process. The space for electrical wiring did not have to be in the plans from the beginning.

As for elevator shafts, the early plans did not include elevators, but elevators were not unknown (the first actually appeared in the 1700's). As the temple was constructed, the outside walls were built first, so there were initially large open spaces inside that would later be filled with beams, floors, and walls. When the idea of installing elevators arose later on in the building process, it was not hard to utilize some of the open space to create elevator shafts. By 1887, temple plans show two elevator shafts, and hydraulic elevators were later installed in these shafts.

Of course, none of this means that construction of the temple wasn't inspired. Builders made provisions for modern technologies based on knowledge and research, but that's generally how God works with us. He very rarely dictates exactly what we need to do, down to the smallest detail. Rather, he guides us in specific directions according to our ability to listen, and gives us opportunity to put our own intellect to use in order to make decisions. I particularly like this passage from the very beginning of the article I cited:
"While many of these accounts intend to be faith promoting, hinting that God dictated minute details of design and infrastructure, many common stories are not factual. Indeed, the stories may detract from the appreciation Latter-day Saints should have for the hard labors of mind and body the temple builders endured. While those builders were inspired, God still expected them to do their homework, to study the challenges in their minds, and they did."
Sometimes I think that the truth is often more faith-promoting than those "faith-promoting rumors" simply because what actually happened can help me to understand how God works in the lives of everyday men and women (including myself). It's not that He doesn't work miracles - it's just that sometimes His miracles are accomplished through the divinely-inspired work of ordinary people.