UW-Platteville began in 1866 as the first state teacher preparation institution in Wisconsin, then called the Platteville Normal School. Classes were held in Rountree Hall, located at the corner of Main and Elm streets. Rountree Hall was actually built 13 years earlier in 1853 to accommodate the rapidly increasing enrollment of the Platteville Academy, founded in 1839 (even before Wisconsin's statehood) by the city's Presbyterian Church.
The university also has roots in the Wisconsin Mining Trade School, established in 1907 to train specialized technicians to work in the mining operations surrounding Platteville. In 1917, a third year was added to the curriculum, making the Wisconsin Mining School the first school in the United States to offer a three-year course in mining engineering, upon completion of which a student received a diploma. The first mining school was located in Rountree Hall after the normal school vacated the building, which still exists today.
One of the university's oldest traditions originated in the year 1936 when the mining school students began work on the world’s largest “M" by placing rocks in a pattern on the southwest slope of the mound, located a few miles east of the city. Completed the following year, the "M" measures 214 x 241 feet and consists of some 400 tons of whitewashed stone. The lighting of the "M" is now a tradition at UW-Platteville and is the featured ceremony each fall during Homecoming weekend.
The mining school became the Wisconsin Institute of Technology in 1939 and later merged with the Platteville State Teachers College in 1959 to become the Wisconsin State College and Institute of Technology at Platteville.
During the 1960s, the college experienced a period of rapid growth resulting in the construction of several new halls. In 1966, the name was changed again to the Wisconsin State University-Platteville. The university and all other public institutions of higher education in Wisconsin merged in 1971 to form the UW System, governed by a single Board of Regents. As a result of the merger, the university experienced its most recent name change to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.