“In 1906, the class of 1907 whitewashed their graduation year on the mountain east of campus. When other students saw these numbers on the mountain, a massive invasion against the offenders began. The 1907’s held out as long as they could, but they were finally obliterated. To prevent further clashes, President Brimhall consented to send Ernest Partridge and three of his students, Elmer Jacobs, Clarence Jacobs and Harvey Fletcher, to survey the letters ‘B’, ‘Y’ and ‘U’ on the mountain. After the letters were laid out on the mountain, the entire student body joined together for their first Y-day to whitewash these letters. Harvey Fletcher recalled that:

‘The students stood in a zigzag line about eight feet apart stretching from the bottom of the hill to the site of the “Y”. The first man took the bag of lime, sand or rocks and carried it eight feet and handed it to the second man. The second man carried it another eight feet and handed it to a third man and thus the bag went up the hill, each man shuttling back and forth along his eight foot portion of the trail. All the students started with enthusiasm as they expected to be through by 10 o’clock a.m. But it was a much bigger job than anyone expected. It was 4 p.m. before the “Y” was covered and then by only a thin layer. So no attempt was made to cover the other two letters. It was very hard work and most of the boys had no breakfast and no dinner. No one dared to quit as it would break up the line. In the afternoon it was more than some of them could take and they fainted and had to be helped down the hill. I am sure those who worked in the line that day will never forget it. They were rewarded when they got back to campus and looked at the beautiful white “Y” on the mountainside in just the right proportions. It looked like it was standing in the air just above the ground.’

“The letter ‘Y’, composed of a thin coat of lime powder, needed constant repair which the students whole-heartedly took on as a challenge. In 1908, the students added a layer of rock to the face of the letter. In 1910 or 1911 the blocks, or serifs, were added — transforming it into the block letter we recognize today. In the fall of each year as part of their orientation activities, the freshmen students would bow every day at 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. in anticipation of climbing to the letter and removing brush from the area.”

“On Y-day in the spring, the men met early in the morning for roll call. They would head up to the ‘Y’ and the women would stay behind to prepare the lunch. The faculty cleared the trail, the freshmen hauled water from a spring, sophomores carried up the white wash and mixed it in wooden troughs, and the juniors and seniors poured it on the large letter. The band played music all day to keep the spirits of the workers up. The job required a minimum of 500 pounds of salt, 110 bags of lime, and 3,000 gallons of water.”

“This tradition continued until 1972, when the university began using helicopters to carry the whitewash up the mountain. This change was made to reduce the environmental impact on the mountain caused by the yearly bucket brigade. In 1978, the face of the ‘Y’ was coated with gunite, a mixture of sand and white cement. Over 100 yards of sand, 56,400 pounds of cement and 10,000 gallons of water were used on the project, which took 10 days to complete. After the gunite was applied, the annual whitewashings were no longer needed. The block letter ‘Y’ is currently painted every 2-5 years as needed. It takes 3 people 10 hours to apply 155 gallons of paint, which is transported by helicopter.”

“In 1923 the ‘Y’ letter was lit for the first time in order to burn back the vegetation which had over-grown the area. It was originally lit with cotton bales or mattress stuffing dipped in pitch. It is currently illuminated by 1,000 25-watt bulbs powered by a 1,500 KVW generator. It takes 3 people 6 hours to put the lights up and 3 hours to take them down.”

“What a sight to see! The majestic ‘Y’ greeting all who arrive in Utah Valley. Even more spectacular is the huge, illuminated letter which gives light to all the world. Although the ‘Y’ is lit annually on special occasions, it has special meaning for our new students, who upon entering BYU have the letter lit especially for them. By the same token, a student’s college career culminates with the lighting of the ‘Y’ at graduation. Like the sun with her spectacular sunrise and glowing sunset, the lighting of the ‘Y’ represents the sunrise of the incoming new student and the sunset of the graduating senior.”

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