History of the M

Even the Miners who were in school at the time do not agree as to when the M went up on Mt. Zion.  Several use the year 1907, but most likely, the M was born on May 15, 1908 as was reported by the May 9 issue of the Golden Globe.  It reported that the Colorado School of Mines would declare a holiday on this day “to place a big, white M on Mt. Zion.”

This inspiration for the M was due to the enthusiasm of the seniors of the Class of ’08.  They went on an inspection trip to Salt Lake City to examine the large “U” of the University of Utah, and their enthusiasm was further continued by Herbert Everest who designed the M as a descriptive geometry problem for his senior thesis.  This design led to the identification of three suitable locations for the M: Lookout Mountain, A prestigious spot across Clear Creek, and its present site on Mt. Zion.
About May 1, Walt Brown, ’10 laid out the outline of the M-blem on the mountain.  It would be 104 feet by 107 feet with 10-foot legs, and rested on a 23-degree slope.  Since there was no road in those days, students had a hard hike to the M each year, with tools and materials packed up on burros.  But Maintenance on the M wasn’t always such hard work.  On November 6, 1919 several Denver University students were caught painting the M a bright red.  “Miners had a great reunion with their DU friends”, who were escorted to Stratton Hall and relieved of their hair.  An M was painted conspicuously on each forehead with silver nitrate, and later they were paraded around Golden in “white jumpers with blue M’s,” before finally being released.  When a Denver Post article slammed CSM students for their “outrageous conduct”, Miners decided to strike back.  They called the Post and asked that a reporter be sent out for a “good story”.  At the same time, students notified the Rocky Mountain News to send both a reporter and photographer.  Bill Bliss, Post reporter, was taken prisoner, head shaven, and outfitted in “mine-diggers”, while the News team captured all the color for their paper.

Because Blue Key originated as a school spirit organization, and the M was the school’s biggest show of its spirit, it only made sense that Blue Key care for the M.  In its long running tradition of spirit, the group was always trying to go the extra mile to get a cheer.  In the 20’s, Blue Key would light the M-blem with railroad flares for Homecoming, creating a bright, blurred glare on Mt. Zion, but Golden merchants and students pushed for a permanently lighted M, so in late 1931 a line of poles started up the mountain.  The work was mostly done by students, directed by professors, and supported by local merchants, contractors and residents.  To raise the full amount, each member of the CSM Alumni Association was sent a request made out for $1, and townspeople and merchants were asked to contribute on the $1 basis.  Mines spirit caught hold and enough money was raised to complete the project.

A lot of dignitaries were on hand on March 19, 1932, including Lt. Gov. Ed Johnson, making speeches until deep dusk.  As the fateful switch was flipped at the speaker’s table, signals were made and relayed to someone at Brooks Field to push the real switch.  The M was on. On December 7, 1935, Blue Key took the next step toward spirit and changed the color of the M-blem for the Christmas holidays substituting red for white, starting a trend that lives today.  In October 1989, Blue Key initiated a project to overhaul and modernize the M.  The original lighting system installed in 1932, with exposed wiring and bulbs, was still in place, but was plagued with problems.  The project involved setting permanent posts and conduits which would house new, enclosed wiring, and special multi-bulb terminals would make it possible for blue key members to change the color (or shape) of the M with the flip of a switch rather than changing 551 individual light bulbs; the new M now contains 1653 light bulbs.

Again, during the summer of 1998, Blue Key members took on the task of rewiring the circuit box of the M.  The group re-designed and built a new box, which allows the three circuits of the M to be turned on in any arrangement.  The purpose of this re-design was to make the circuit safer easier to change to different designs for the holidays.

Most recently, a senior design group took on the M during the year of 2002-2003.  This time, computer technology was utilized in the circuitry, resulting in an M that now contains multiple segments, each controllable from the student center.  The M can now chime to the hour and can switch colors with the push of button. 

In 2008 members of Blue Key took on a project to bring the M up to date with current and more energy technology.  The 11 watt incandescent bulbs were replaced with energy efficient 2 watt LED bulbs. This change resulted in a brighter and shaper M and one which is both energy and fiscally efficient. The LED’s will last approximately 10 times longer and the lower wattage will result in a savings of approximately $2000 in energy cost per year. And to further keep in the spirit of Blue Key’s commitment to service the retired M bulbs were recycled into a community project that provided over $6000 in funding to a program which assists low income people with energy costs


M Timeline


May 15, 1908
The M is built
250 Mines students
20 faculty members
a train of burros
Blue Key borrows a tractor, generator, poles, wire and bulbs and lights the “M” for homecoming. Following the popularity of the temp lighting a fund drive to permanently light the “M” begins. Alumni and community members donate toward the project.
In March the “M” is lit permanently (25 watt bulbs).
The “M” lighting becomes automatic with the lights turning off and on independently.
The “M” structure is installed, the lighting system modernized,
 wiring upgraded and the light sockets replaced with multi-bulb weatherproof fixtures (11 watt bulbs).
The lighting is computerized and a wireless controller installed by a senior design team allowing the M to be operated from the campus.
The “M” turns 100!
The incandescent lights are replaced with energy efficient 2 watt LED’s