St. George is a city located in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Utah on the Utah/Arizona border, and the county seat of Washington County, Utah. It is the principal city of and is included in the St. George, Utah, Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city is 119 miles (192 km) northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, and 303 miles (488 km) south of Salt Lake City on Interstate 15.
As of the 2010 U.S. Census, St. George had a population of 72,897. From 1990, St. George became the second fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States, only after Greeley, Colorado in 2005. This trend continued through 2007, when growth slowed substantially. In 2009, the metropolitan area (defined as Washington County) had an estimated 137,473 residents.
St. George was founded as a cotton mission in 1861 under the direction of Brigham Young, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons or LDS Church)— part of a greater church effort to become self-sufficient. While the early settlers did manage to grow cotton, it was never produced at competitive market rates; consequently, cotton farming was eventually abandoned.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Brigham Young organized the settlement of what is now Washington County, Utah.
Fearing that the war would take away the cotton supply, he began plans for raising enough in this western country to supply the needs of his people. Enough favorable reports had come to him from this warm country below the rim of the Great Basin, that he was convinced cotton could be raised successfully here. At the general church conference in Salt Lake City on October 6th, 1861, about three hundred families were “called" to the Dixie mission to promote the cotton industry. Most of the people knew nothing of this expedition until their names were read from the pulpit; but in nearly every case, they responded with good will, and made ready to leave within the month’s time allotted to them. The families were selected so as to ensure the communities the right number of farmers, masons, blacksmiths, businessmen, educators, carpenters, as needed.
St. George was the location of the 1997 United States Academic Decathlon national finals.
On May 19, 1953, the United States government detonated the 32-kiloton (130 TJ) atomic bomb (nicknamed "Harry") at the Nevada Test Site. The bomb later gained the name "Dirty Harry" because of the tremendous amount of off-site fallout generated by the bomb. Winds carried fallout 135 miles (220 km) to St. George, where residents reported "an oddly metallic sort of taste in the air."
The Howard Hughes motion picture, The Conqueror, was being filmed in the area of St. George at the time of the detonation. The fallout is often blamed for the unusually high percentage of cancer deaths among the cast and crew.
St. George received the brunt of the fallout of above-ground nuclear testing in the Yucca Flats/Nevada Test Site northwest of Las Vegas. Winds routinely carried the fallout of these tests directly through St. George and southern Utah. Marked increases in cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, bone cancer, brain tumors, and gastrointestinal tract cancers were reported from the mid-1950s through 1980.