The third oldest was President Joseph Fielding Smith, who died 17 days before his 96th birthday, followed by President Ezra Taft Benson, who died at 94, and President Wilford Woodruff, at 91.
Joseph Smith, a 25-year-old seeker in upper-state New York, founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830. He died at 38 and leadership of the church went to Brigham Young, the most senior member of the church's 12 apostles, who served until he died at 76. That pattern of succession has been followed through Hinckley, the church's 15th president.
For a man of his advanced age, Hinckley is remarkably free of the grumpiness and cynicism that typically accompanies old age, said Kathleen Flake, who teaches American religious history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "There is a huge age and cultural gap between President Hinckley and the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, yet he mediates the span so gracefully that most people are not aware of it."
It's the way he speaks, the metaphors he uses, his awareness of contemporary issues and news, the stories he tells and the comparisons he makes, she said.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find an anachronism in his speeches," Flake said. "When you listen to his talks, you're amazed at how contemporary they are. He's not talking about the Model T Ford or the Cold War. He does not take people back to a past as a better place, but is always looking forward."
Hinckley is the healthiest, most vigorous Mormon president to live into his 90s. Before this year, he had never spent a single night in the hospital. After undergoing surgery in January to remove a cancerous tumor in his colon, followed by chemotherapy, Hinckley quickly resumed his presidential responsibilities, going to the office most days and even traveling to Chile and Finland to dedicate new temples.
In their 90s, other Mormon presidents suffered debilitating effects of that longevity. They spent much of their final years confined to their homes, some unable to speak, which made it nearly impossible for them to fulfill all the duties of their office.
By contrast, Hinckley has spent his 11 years as president jetting across the globe, speaking in stadiums from Manila to Mexico City, Santiago to Sacramento, Rio de Janeiro to Radio City Music Hall. A few years ago, he launched a "cultural celebration" for Mormon teens to precede every temple dedication and he is the star attraction. The move was intended to energize the church's young people and it seems to have succeeded.
"He has not turned over this area of church leadership to a younger administrator," Flake said. "He's the one who speaks to the young adult population. They find him easy to listen to. I think that's striking."
To this day, Hinckley has retained his mental acuity and self-deprecating sense of humor.
In a speech at Brigham Young University on Tuesday, Hinckley quoted from Ralph Waldo Emerson, reminisced about long-ago episodes from his life and repeated a poem about Abraham Lincoln. He joked with the students and waved his cane at them.
At last month's LDS General Conference, Hinckley noted that this milestone was imminent.
"If I last a few months longer, I will have served to an older age than any previous president. I do not say this to be boastful but rather grateful," he said during the conference's Sunday morning session. "The Lord has permitted me to live; I do not know for how long. But whatever the time, I shall continue to give my best to the task at hand."
Hinckley has no special plans to mark the milestone, LDS spokesman Dale Bills said. Just business as usual.