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Salt Lake City's founding differed from nearly all other western cities, in that it was not founded by a group of unassociated individuals. Instead, an organized group of Mormons founded the city with the goal of establishing a self-sufficient city in the wilderness. For almost a generation, Salt Lake City was just that.

However, the completion of a transcontinental railroad in 1869 changed the isolated nature of the area, and Salt Lake City increasingly became a reflection of the nation as a whole. While the Mormon church remains a major factor in Salt Lake City today, less than half of the population identify as Mormons.