Born on a farm in Whitney, Idaho,he was the oldest of 11 children.A 1926 graduate of Brigham Young University (after serving a church mission in Great Britain in 1921-23),he pursued careers in both agriculture and church leadership.
In 1939,when he was (unpaid) president of the church's Boise, Idaho stake and working for the University of Idaho Extension Service,he moved to Washington, D.C to become executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives,and became founding president of the new LDS Church stake there.
On October 7,1943 both he and Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985]] were ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,filling two vacancies created by the death of Apostles that summer.As succession to the presidency of the Church is strictly by seniority among the Twelve,the few minutes separating Kimball's and Benson's ordinations by President Heber J. Grant resulted in Benson becoming Church President a dozen years later than he would have had he gone first.
In 1953 Benson was appointed United States Secretary of Agriculture by President Dwight D. Eisenhower,and accepted this position with the permission of Church President David O. McKay.He retained his United States Cabinet place throughout the two terms of the Eisenhower Administration without yielding his position in the Quorum of the Twelve.In office,he was criticized for his opposition to government price supports and such aid to farmers.
He succeeded Kimball as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1973,and as President of the Church in 1985.Known for his firebrand conservatism,he was comparatively moderate once he finally attained the church's highest office,and in the 1990s dropped from sight for years before his death.First Counselor Gordon B. Hinckley was popularly viewed as acting president of the church during Benson's later years,as he had been as Second Counselor in Kimball's last years.
President Benson was buried in Whitney,Idaho.