The Exponent Explains: The “M”

Every year a group of dedicated students and staff haul brushes, rollers and gallons of paint to the face of Old Mount Baldy to restore and renew the iconic “M” that overlooks Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley. The hike to the “M” is a staple for Bozeman visitors and residents alike, but few people know the history of the town icon.

So what is the history and significance behind the massive “M”?

The inception of the “M” took place in the early fall of 1915, when a group of sophomore engineering students at the then Montana State College decided to construct the letter as a tribute to their class’s loyalty.

A week after choosing the location and scouting the spot, nearly sixty men carried slabs of stone up the hill to place them in the “M” formation.  Inside the outline of large rocks, smaller rocks and materials were dumped and eventually whitewashed in the spring of that year.

To this day the “M” is constructed of only limestone rocks and boulders taken from the mountainside and is restored every year the weekend before MSU Homecoming (an activity organized by the Office of Activities and Engagement).

This year, in accordance with Homecoming, the “M” was also lit at approximately 9 p.m. on Friday Oct. 4.

The “M” is 240 feet high and 100 feet across. The blocks at the end of the legs measure 40 x 96 feet.

The first hillside letter such as Bozeman’s “M” was a “C” on a hillside overlooking UC Berkeley constructed in 1905. Since then approximately 500 hillside letters have been built on hills across the western United States. Montana holds approximately 71 of these letters, the third most in the U.S. behind Utah and California.