Filed Under Montana Tech

Big M

Iconic Symbol Was Constructed by Students in 1910

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 high and 75 feet wide. The M was laid out by surveying students of the School of Mines. The next morning, beginning at 10 am and working until 5 pm, the men formed a bucket brigade and hauled 600 pounds of lime to the site. With the aid of a hose borrowed from the local fire department, they painted the rhyolite that made up the Big M. When done for the day, the men shouted with glee because the letter could be seen from any point in Butte and was a focal point for visitors coming into the city by rail.

In 1912, serifs were added to the M to increase the width to 90 feet. This would not be the only change to the Big M over the years. On May 2, 1962, Governor Tim Babcock “threw the switch” illuminating the M permanently at night. 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 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.”

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 illuminated each night. 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. Montana Tech continues to flash the V whenever its sports teams have a victory.


Big M The "M" on Big Butte with "Beat MSC" (Montana State College) spelled out in rocks below. Source: Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Creator: C. Owen Smithers
Fireworks on Big Butte Fourth of July fireworks above Big Butte. Source: Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Creator: C. Owen Smithers Date: July 4, 1937.
Painting the M Montana Tech students painting the 'M' on Big Butte. Source: Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Date: 1942


Big Butte


Story of Butte
Contributors: Lindsay Mulcahy, “Big M,” Story of Butte, accessed December 3, 2023,