Looking north towards the Bridgers, it is pretty hard to miss the gigantic white ‘M’ plastered on the face of Mount Baldy. Representing MSU, the ‘M’ is a staple of Bozeman and the campus that lies at its heart. The creation of the ‘M’ was quite the undertaking.
In early fall of 1915, the graduating class of '18 came together for a class meeting to discuss the possibility of the letter. The idea was wildly popular, so, the sophomores petitioned the Forest Service for permission to build the giant ‘M’ on the mountainside. Soon after the students acquired a permit to construct the project and chose a site where everyone would be able to see their creation.
Thus, one crisp October morning, the class of '18 made their way to the mouth of Bridger Canyon. They traveled via bicycles, horse-drawn buggies and possibly even a newly designed gas-powered truck. After climbing the steep mountain, they started by outlining and filling the gigantic letter. At the time, the U at the University of Montana was thought to be the most prominent letter representation of a university, measuring 100 feet tall. However, when the class of ‘18 built the ‘M,’ they purposefully made it 240 feet high and 100 feet across so that their creation would be more significant than their athletic rivals at UM.
According to the 1918 MSU yearbook, that same October night, the girls of the '18 class joined the boys for dinner and the entire sophomore class had a great time laughing and dancing around the campfire. However, winter was soon upon them, so they had to wait until the snow melted the following year in 1917 to return to their creation. After catching the students' attention below, students began to paint the ‘M’ every year, and it quickly became a freshman tradition. At the beginning of the M’s creation, the first-year students were barred from walking on campus lawns, dating or growing mustaches until they completed the ‘M'’s annual refresh. The hazing stopped in the late 1940s.. Still, it wasn't until 1967 that the university designated an official date for the job, and since then, a Saturday has been set aside every year, known as "M Day."
In the late 1990s, people recognized that the ‘M’ needed more than just a fresh coat of lime. It required some hard manual labor. Over 100,000 dollars was raised by alums, MSU employees and community members to promptly redesign and pave the trail's parking lot, replace fallen rock and repair and improve the trails. To quote the 1918 MSU yearbook, "May the ‘M’ stand long as a symbol of our loyalty to Montana State and a reminder of what a united class can accomplish."
The Office of Student Engagement is continuing the ‘M’ tradition with it’s “Rocking the ‘M’” event at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10.
This poem was found in the 1918 MSU Yearbook:
“Did you see the Juniors working,
In the heart on the mountainside?
Did you see a single one shirking?
No, the task was his greatest pride.
They were planting a token of homage
In the earth on that mountain high;
A token of love for their college,
The sign of a lasting tie.
So they toiled from morning till night.
Their bodies were weary and aching,
But there in the last rays of twirling
Shrone the M, the M of their making.
Their spirits arose at the sight
Of the tribute that thus came to be,
And echoing far in the night.
They sang praises to M.S.C