Young's wish that spiritual and temporal interests of the Mormons be combined had already found a promising model in cooperatives founded in the mid-1860s in the Utah towns of Lehi and Brigham City. Following these examples, in 1868, he founded Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, a church-sponsored retail trading system that he hoped would drive out non-Mormon merchants and be profitable enough to provide the capital needed to foster local cooperative industries. With the Salt Lake City ZCMI as a central wholesaling facility, Young encouraged the establishment of some 150 retail branches in almost every Mormon town and village.
Despite the apparent short-term success of ZCMI, Young still wrestled with the problem of keeping the Saints apart culturally and economically from the incoming flood of Gentiles attracted by gold and silver strikes in Utah's mountains. The Panic of 1873 provided a particularly sharp lesson in the dangers of integration with the national economy. Those areas of Utah tied to mining suffered severely, while Brigham City, with its elaborate cooperative system, seemed relatively unaffected. Observing poverty, dispiritedness and disaffection as he traveled south to his winter home in St. George during the winter of 1873-74, the aging Mormon leader considered how best to control the situation. The previous October Lorenzo Snow, apostle and founder of the Brigham City Cooperatives, had preached a sermon which perhaps was still ringing in Young's ears: "It is more than forty years since the Order of Enoch was introduced, and rejected. One would naturally think, that it is now about time to begin to honor it."