Big Butte’s Big M

The students of the Montana School of Mines constructed the Big M in May of 1910. The student body gathered to place the emblem of their school in “the most conspicuous place” they could- on the face of Big Butte. They made the letter 67 feet in height and 75 feet wide. The M was laid out by the surveying students of the School of Mines. The next morning, beginning at 10:00 am and working until 5:00 pm, the men hauled 600 pounds of lime through a bucket brigade and with some aid through a hose borrowed from the local fire department and painted the rhyolite that made up the Big M. When done for the day, the men shouted with glee for the letter could be seen from any point in Butte and was a focal point for visitors coming into the city by rail.

View of the Big M on Big Butte, circa 1912.

In 1912, Serifs were added to the M to increase the width to 90 feet but this would not be the only change to occur to the Big M over the years. On May 2, 1962, Governor Tim Babcock “threw the switch” illuminating the M on a permanent nightly basis. The Montana School of Mines Alumni Association and the Copper Guards headed this project with assistance from the Anaconda Company. The Butte City Council agreed to pay half of the electricity bill to light the M at this time. When the lights of the M were lit that first night, the city erupted in cheers and applause. Governor Babcock noted that “such a project required a tremendous school and community effort… This great spirit of cooperation exemplifies your institution”.

Above, the M lit for the first time
on May 2, 1962.

At left, Governor Babcock “throws the switch” to light the M that same evening

Towns across Montana have a letter on a hillside to represent the local high school or university, but Butte’s is the only hillside letter to be lit up on a nightly basis. It not only lights up but flashes “V for Victory” when Montana Tech wins a sporting event. The first V occurred in 1962 when the Orediggers won their Homecoming game. Since the current pandemic began, Montana Tech decided to flash the V nightly to represent the community banding together to overcome this hardship.

The Big M flashes “V” for Victory in a photo featured in the Montana Standard on April 4, 2020. Photo by Meagan Thompson.


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