September 4, 2008
The most recognizable symbol of Brigham Young University is the block Y that graces the mountain east of the university.
This iconic symbol came to represent the university rather late in the game (31 years after the founding of Brigham Young Academy). In 1906 the class of 1907 decided to whitewash their class year on the mountain east of campus. This did not sit well with the other classes and they obliterated the lime powder monument that the class of 1907 had created. To prevent further difficulties among the classes President George H. Brimhall authorized Ernest Partridge to survey the letters B, Y, and U on the mountainside.
After the letters were laid out by Ernest Partridge and three of his students, the entire student body joined together to whitewash them. They started with the Y and formed a chain gang up the mountain. The first individual took a bag of lime, sand or rocks and passed it to the next individual until it eventually made its way up the mountain to the area staked out for the Y. It took the students all day to get a thin cover of whitewash on the Y and no attempt was made to cover the B or the U. The Y measured 322 feet by 120 feet and sits on 280 acres of land purchased by the university. At first it was a plain Y but in 1911 it was turned into a block Y by the addition of serifs.
The whitewashing of the Y by students quickly became an important tradition at the university and a vital part of Y Day. This tradition was discontinued in 1973 due to concerns that the large number of students involved was speeding up the erosion of the mountainside. In 1924 the block Y was lit for the first time–a dangerous process involving rags and kerosene that was replaced by small light bulbs in the 1970s. The Y is lit during Homecoming and for other important events at the university. The Y celebrated its 100th birthday in 2006 and continues to be the most recognizable symbol associated with Brigham Young University.