History and Traditions

History of Mines

Golden, first known as Golden City, was established in 1859 and served as a supply center for miners and settlers in the area. By 1866, Bishop George M. Randall arrived in the territory and, seeing a need for higher education facilities in the area, began planning for a university which would include a school of mines. In 1870, he opened the Jarvis Hall Collegiate School in a building just south of the town of Golden. In 1873, Mines opened under the auspices of the Episcopal Church and in 1874 the School of Mines became a territorial institution and has been a state institution since 1876 when Colorado attained statehood.

The first Colorado School of Mines Board of Trustees meeting was held in 1879, the first formal commencement for two graduates was held in 1883, the first international student graduated in 1889, and the first female student graduated in 1898.

Courses offered to students during the early years of Colorado School of Mines included chemistry, metallurgy, mineralogy, mining engineering, geology, botany, math and drawing. The focus of the early academic programs was on gold and silver, and the assaying of those minerals. As the institution grew, its mission expanded to focus specifically on understanding the Earth, harnessing energy and sustaining the environment.

For additional Mines history, see the catalogs, yearbooks, pictures, building plans and unpublished histories housed in the Wood Archives on the lower level of Mines’ Arthur Lakes Library, 1400 Illinois St.


Our Traditions

M Climb

The mountainside M was constructed in 1908 when 250 Mines students and 20 faculty members loaded a supply train of burros and packed their way up Mt. Zion west of Golden.

In 1931, members of Mines’ chapter of Blue Key International Honor Society, a national leadership and service group that maintains the M, borrowed a tractor, generator, poles, wire and bulbs to light the M for homecoming. The first lighting of the monument was such a huge hit, students and civic committees raised money to light it permanently in 1932. In 1948, the lighting became fully automatic. Forty-one years later in 1989, the lighting system was modernized including wiring and conduit upgrades. The original light sockets were replaced with multi-bulb weatherproof fixtures. Lighting was computerized in 2003 with a wireless antenna system developed by a Mines Senior Design team. In 2008, Blue Key replaced the monument’s 1,653 incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs.)

Each fall, incoming freshmen carry a 10-pound rock from campus to the M and coat the symbol with fresh whitewash. Graduating seniors are invited to return to the M and retrieve their rocks.

When students get ready to graduate, they make the climb once more to retrieve a rock, a keepsake from their time at Mines.



For three days each spring, Colorado School of Mines students put the stress of studying aside and celebrate Engineers’ Days (E-Days).

Highlights include the traditional (and legendary) fireworks show at Brooks Field, the ore-cart pull to the state capitol where the governor reads an E-Days proclamation, live entertainment, engineering-themed games, a cardboard canoe race down Clear Creek and more.


The Mines Marching Band

The traditional Mines Marching Band wears red and black plaid shirts, jeans, hiking boots and hard hats — making it a unique presence among university bands. The band was established more than 50 years ago and has a rich tradition of performing for the school and the community.


Silver Diplomas

In 1934, the first silver diplomas were awarded to graduating seniors.

According to the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Association archives:
“When Charles A. Hull engraved a silver diploma for his son, who graduated from Mines in 1933, he probably had little idea of the tradition that he was starting. Intrigued, President Coolbaugh asked Hull if it would be possible to make such diplomas for an entire graduating class. Hull said it would be. With approval from the faculty, trustees, and the state, silver diplomas were granted to each Mines graduate at the May 18, 1934, commencement. Measuring 5 inches by 6 inches, the diplomas were etched on sterling silver in an elaborate process requiring two men spending 500 man hours (roughly six weeks) to complete the 19 delicate operations for each diploma.”

Though the inflationary cost of silver almost ended the tradition in the 1980s, the silver diplomas continue to be awarded to Mines graduates.