On Washington’s Birthday in 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed the Enabling Act by which Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington were admitted to the Union. As a result, 100,000 acres of public land were appropriated to Montana to establish and maintain a state school of mines. Announcements had to be made to attract students, buildings had to be completed, and faculty and administration had to be hired. A state board of education had to be formed before trustees could be hired. In 1900, the Montana State School of Mines was ready to open its doors.
On the opening day of classes, total enrollment consisted of 21 students. All students paid a $5 registration fee. Students from other states or countries paid an additional $25 tuition fee.
Early curricula at the Montana State School of Mines were designed around two degrees: Mining Engineering and Electrical Engineering. The latter was phased out in 1904. Thus, mining became the mainstay during the college’s formative period.
A history of the Montana State School of Mines would not be complete without mentioning the Montana State Bureau of Mines and Metallurgy. The third president of the school, Dr. C.H. Clapp, campaigned actively for the establishment of the Bureau. A bill enacted by the Legislative Assembly of Montana in 1919 created the Bureau. It had two main functions: first, developing the mineral resources of the state; second, improving the safety and efficiency of mining related operations.
Athletic and social organizations were important to student life at the School of Mines. In the first 20 years, baseball, track, football, basketball, gymnastics, and even quoits (a game in which flat rings of iron or rope are pitched at a stake, with points awarded for encircling it), were sports in which the school participated. Interestingly enough, the idea of school colors is first identified, not with football or basketball, but with baseball. In April, 1902, the baseball team received new uniforms of green with copper-colored lettering. The administration’s policy on athletics was interesting. Dr. Clapp said the purpose of athletics was “… to give the school a name for clean sportsmanship and to develop interest in the institution.”
In the spring of 1910, the “M” was constructed on 6310-foot Big Butte. The three graduating seniors that year, August Grunert, Walter H. Jensen, and William Stuewe, Jr., had previously surveyed the location in March. With the help of some 35 other students over a period of several weeks, they laid out the giant letter and hauled and placed the estimated 441 tons of rhyolite. On the first M-Day (May 20, 1910), all 50 students enrolled at the School of Mines hauled water and lime to whitewash the 75-foot wide by 91-foot long block type “M.” Two years later, serifs were added to the letter, making it 90 feet wide.
New activities popped up on campus during the middle years. Under the guidance of Walter T. Scott, oratory and forensics became popular. Scott helped form the Montana State Intercollegiate Oratorical Association, and the Mines competed on a regular basis with other colleges and universities in the state. The Glee Club was organized in 1922. Students formed orchestras in certain years, most notably the late 1930’s. Women attending the School of Mines formed the Co-ed Club in 1920-21. Its membership included past students and the club served as a network for women who were interested in the institution. The first fraternity on campus was the Delta Chapter of Sigma Rho, national mining and metallurgical fraternity. March of 1935 marked the organization of the Copper Guard. Its duties: “To promote school spirit, to keep old traditions alive and observed, and to foster new ones, and in general to do the odd jobs around the school.”
No treatment of student activities at the Mines is complete without mentioning M-Day. It was the oldest tradition at Montana School of Mines and remained virtually unchanged throughout the middle years.
From 1921-1950, the State Bureau of Mines and Metallurgy was to undergo some changes and see some growth. A certain “anomaly” came to the attention of the right people when the Bureau published its famous “Memoir 1” on the Kevin-Sunburst oil and gas fields of the Sweetgrass Arch.
“Memoir 1” marked a significant geologic contribution to Montana and brought the Bureau to the attention of the public.
This convinced the state legislature that it needed to increase Bureau funding. Eventually, its mission was broadened and the legislature changed the Bureau’s name from the Bureau of Mines and Metallurgy to the State Bureau of Mines and Geology so that its title accurately represented the functions of the organization as a state geological survey.
In 1943, the Montana School of Mines experienced a great impact from World War II when it officially became a Naval College. The academic year began with about 90 percent of campus facilities devoted to the new Navy college training program known as “V-12.” The V-12 program guaranteed an officer replacement pool for the Navy and Marines. Total time of the Navy’s trip ashore at the Mines: two years, four months. Eight hundred and seventy-eight trainees came to Butte for V-12.
Shortly after the war ended, acting president Francis Thompson, embarked on a program that was destined to modernize the Montana School of Mines’ curricula. On November 14, 1945, the president set up a “reconversion” committee to determine what direction the Mines should take in the post-war years.
Overall, what took place was a general freeing-up of curricula so that students had not only more technical electives, but also more options in the humanities and social sciences. Up to this time, students were “locked into” which courses they could take. Thompson changed the picture. The “reconversion” committee marked a significant milestone in the history of the Montana School of Mines. The plan for modernization had succeeded in charting out a path to the future. The modern College was born. And with the modernization of the College came a name change. “The ‘mines’ part of the college’s name was felt to discourage enrollment; the ‘school’ part of the college’s name was considered uncomplimentary.” A change in title would indicate to the public a broader selection of courses and curricula available on the campus. Thus, on January 25, 1965, Montana School of Mines became Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology. Enrollment increased from 303 students in 1957 to 998 students in 1971.”
The Montana University System was restructured in 1994. One of the new major educational components saw Montana Tech become affiliated with the University of Montana and the name officially changed to Montana Tech of The University of Montana. Additionally the College of Technology (formerly Butte Vo-Tech), came under the administrative umbrella of Montana Tech.
Originally chartered as the Montana State School of Mines, Montana Tech of The University of Montana has evolved into a dynamic institution composed of three colleges, one school, and the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. Prior to 1951, the college offered Bachelor of Science degrees in only five areas. Today, the college has implemented 6 certificates, 9 associates, 19 bachelors, and 11 masters programs. The Institution which now has an enrollment of 2100 students, provides these graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary for successful lives and careers, conducts basic and applied research, and provides related services to the citizens of Montana and beyond.
Sports at the College have come a long way. Just as enrollment and curricula options have grown, so have organized athletics. Students now enjoy more opportunities than ever before in the College’s history. With the opening of the HPER Complex in 1980, nearly every imaginable sporting need can be accommodated – be it individual, club, intramural, or intercollegiate.
Overlooking the city from the shoulder of Big Butte, Montana Tech’s north campus can be seen for miles. Its tree-shaded perimeter encloses both the stately buildings of the Institution’s past and the modern facilities reflecting its present and its future. Over $20 million in new construction and building renovation has been completed recently on the north campus.
Since its inception in 1889, Montana Tech has come a long way. It’s seen the changes of a growing campus, student body, activities, and curricula. Montana Tech has maintained an onward and upward tradition, which has earned it a reputation as one of the finest science, engineering, and technical colleges in the country. The exceptional job placement rate of graduates and the success stories of alumni, combined with the low cost of attendance in a highly personalized environment, attest to both quality and value. Stressing a deep focus on achievement, Montana Tech provides the opportunity for students to learn, grow, and succeed.