Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Mink from Summit County to Hollywood


Dublin Core


Mink from Summit County to Hollywood


American mink are cousins to otters and ferrets, and their fur is exceptionally soft and dense. While times have changed, mink furs raised on rural Utah farms were once the height of luxury fashion.

Utah’s mink industry began in earnest in 1924, when Summit County farmer Ray Vernon found 60 dead chickens and a large male mink in one of his coops. Vernon trapped a female mink at a nearby stream, and quickly discovered that Utah’s cold winters were ideal for producing high-quality pelts. Until the late 1920s, Utah's fur trade relied largely on wild animals. But Vernon and other Summit County farmers found that raising mink in captivity allowed for selective breeding that helped turn a rural Utah good into a national luxury product.

Selective breeding meant that mink farmers could propagate animals with pelts that differed from their natural brown color. Coalville farmer John Adkins would travel as far as Alaska for captive mink that had desirable traits. Minks with similar recessive traits were bred to produce new colors of fur. Breeding this way meant that fur operations were structured around the animals' reproductive cycle and required meticulous record-keeping. 

In the 1950s, Adkins raised a mink with a notably dark blue-black pelt, and called the new color Black Willow. The Great Lakes Mink Association used these dark pelts to develop their trademark "Blackglama" line and launched a marketing campaign in 1968 that took Utah furs to new heights. Shot by renowned photographer Richard Avedon, the first Blackglama advertisements featured Hollywood legends such as Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, and Barbara Streisand wearing the black furs. The demand for these luxurious pelts caused the mink industry in Utah to grow into a multimillion dollar business. 

In the 1980s, mink farms counted for a quarter of Summit County’s agricultural output. Across the state, hundreds of farms produced millions of pelts. But tastes soon began to change. Fur fell out of fashion, and animal rights groups targeted mink farms in Utah. Activists illegally released the animals from their cages and even, in one case, bombed a fur breeder’s cooperative building. 

Despite concerns over animal welfare and the rising popularity of faux fur garments, Utah’s remaining mink farms still do considerable business. But, like many rural industries, big swings in demand from urban consumers can make or break their operations.


By Joe Frazier, Lynn Wood, Nate Housley, and Mikee Ferran for Utah Humanities © 2023


Image: Judy Garland advertisement for Blackglama, photograph by Richard Avedon, 1968. The long-running Blackglama campaign is known by the tagline "What becomes a legend most?," and features celebrities modeling the signature black furs. The black mink were raised by Summit County furriers and the fur was prized worldwide before changing fashion and the animal rights movement drove down demand. Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © The Richard Avedon Foundation and American Legend Cooperative.

See Summit County History Museum, exhibition file for “Making History Every Day in Northern Summit County,” curated by Joe Frazier and Lynn Wood, 2023; David Hampshire, Martha Sonntag Bradley, and Allen Roberts, “Living Off the Land” in A History of Summit County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and the Summit County Commission, 1998); Richard E. Westwood, “Early Fur Farming in Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 57 no 4 (1989); W. Dee Halverson, A Legend in Mink: Mink Ranching in Summit County, Utah 1924-2011 (Heritage Associates, 2011); Bruce Hills, “Utah Fur Industry Vital but Little-Known,” Deseret News August 31, 1989.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org/stories.