The dramatic development of mechanical engineering and transportation at the beginning of the 19th century meant that Alpine mining and metallurgy needed to step up a gear. This was only going to be possible with academically trained experts and so the curators of the Joanneum, a technical university founded by Archduke Johann in 1811, submitted a proposal for the foundation of a university for metallurgy on 16 November 1814. This was suggested by Archduke Johann himself, the founder and protector of the Joanneum, but initially failed due to the lack of suitable teaching personnel; however, the plan was not allowed to fade away as it was urgently needed.

The curators applied once again for the establishment of a university for metallurgy in 1828. They proposed Vordernberg, the most significant Alpine iron mining site at the time, as the location for this university. In an amazingly prescient judgement of human character, Archduke Johann named the 24-year-old Peter Tunner as the future professor in 1833 and he was duly appointed in 1835.

Styrian Corporate School of Mining

The "Steiermärkisch-Ständische Montanlehranstalt" [Styrian Corporate School of Mining] opened on 4 November 1840. The inaugural address of Peter Tunner demonstrated his clear intention of keeping teaching on an academic level and of developing his school into a centre of expertise in mining and metallurgy from the Alpine region.

However, after several successful years in Vordernberg, the 1848 revolution brought about ground-breaking change and disruption. Austrian students were no longer allowed to attend the k. k. Bergakademie [Mining Academy] in Schemnitz in Upper Hungary. Peter Tunner therefore applied for his school to be nationalised. The Styrian authorities agreed to this transfer of ownership, with the express proviso that the future k. k. Montanlehranstalt [Imperial and Royal School of Mining] was to remain in Styria and that its teaching must focus particularly on Styrian iron. In 1848, the Vordernberg school was nationalised and relocated to nearby Leoben in 1849.

K. k. Montanlehranstalt (Imperial and Royal School of Mining) in Leoben

The school organisation aimed to provide special training for students who had already received a basic education in mathematics and natural sciences at the Polytechnic Institutes in Vienna and Prague or at the Joanneum in Graz. Peter Tunner's efforts ensured that two preparatory years were introduced in Leoben, so that students could be admitted on the basis of school-leaving certificates from a Gymnasium [grammar school] or Realschule [comprehensive school] and leave the institution after four years as academic mining graduates. The elevation of the school to Mining Academy on 2 September 1861 confirmed that the institution was equivalent to the Schemnitz Mining Academy.

When war broke out in 1866, the abolishment of the preparatory courses resulted in an appalling drop in student numbers and only the combined efforts of the industry and professorial colleagues managed to get the preparatory courses brought back in 1870. On 15 December 1874, the Imperial and Royal School of Mining received a new statute, which guaranteed sound and steady development. The status of the teachers was ranked equal to that of professors at technical universities.

University of Mining

An imperial decree on 31 July 1904 changed the name of the mining academy to "University of Mining" and made it entirely equivalent to a technical university by allowing it to award doctoral degrees. In Autumn 1910, the University of Mining moved into its new site in Josefee, which was extremely spacious for those days.

Hard times

After only a few years in its new home, the lecture theatres emptied as World War I broke out. When normal operation resumed at the beginning of 1919, the first goal was to overcome the incredible drop in student numbers caused by the war years. A new study structure was created to adapt to progress in the mining industry, with Mining and Metallurgy being separated into two different disciplines.

Despite the hardships of the post-war period, the university continued its upward development, even though plans for division or complete relocation kept re-emerging and causing serious issues. These plans were realised in part in 1934 when administration of the University of Mining and of the Technical University of Graz was merged and the two preparatory years of studies were transferred to Graz. This meant a serious drop in student numbers, with a resultant lack of a new generation of engineers for the Austrian mining industry. However, thanks to the joint efforts of industry, professorial colleagues and the city of Leoben and the clear understanding of the Federal Government, the independent University of Mining was reinstated by the federal law of 3 April 1937.

A further era of peaceful development was once again interrupted by the annexation of Austria to the Third Reich in 1938, which meant the enforcement of German study regulations. However, the university retained its name, which was quite exceptional in the Third Reich. World War II caused serious disruptions to studies, but luckily the university escaped serious damage. Even the end of the war in 1945 and occupation of the country by foreign troops did not stop the university from running as normal.

New fields of study

Between 1945 and 1955, student admissions rose from 300 to 600. New fields of study were gradually introduced from around 1955 onwards, which meant that the combined range of subjects for mining and metallurgy now included everything from raw materials to working materials, alongside the traditional core subjects. By 1969, the University of Mining had 25 institutions for six different fields of study: Mining, Mine Surveying, Petroleum Engineering, Metallurgy, Mineralogy and Mechanical Engineering. Polymer Engineering and Materials Science were added in 1970/71. Around 1970, seven new institutions were established to cover the swift rise in teaching requirements as the result of this differentiation in subject areas. The large extension at Ignaz-Buchmüller-Platz that had been underway since 1962 was also opened at the same time. The new Peter-Tunner building was opened in October 1990. In accordance with the plans drawn up by the architect Eilfried Huth, the existing institutional building was adapted and converted into a modern building, including historical materials for the geoscience institution.

The University of Mining celebrated its 150th anniversary in October 1990. The reaction and recognition that it received from experts, the state, industry and business at the time was a very pleasing confirmation of the path that it had chosen and the efforts made by everyone involved. Two new fields of study were also established: Applied Geosciences and Industrial Environmental Protection, Waste Disposal Technology and Recycling. Industrial Logistics was established in 2003 and the Bachelors programme in Industrial Energy Technology was established in 2012 (the Masters programme having been available since 2009).  Two new degrees were launched in 2014: the bachelor's and master's degree in Recycling, and the Joint Master Programme Advanced Mineral Resources Development, the latter of which is held entirely in English. In autumn 2020, the most recent study programme Industrial Data Science started. There are 16 university departments for postgraduate education.

Montanuniversität Leoben

Based on the 1975 Austrian University Organisation Act, the University of Mining has been known as Montanuniversität Leoben since 1 October 1975. Having crossed the 1000-student threshold in 1981, student numbers for 2012/13 reached approx. 3,300 – the highest since the university was founded. Montanuniversität has offered only Bachelors and Masters programmes since 2011/12. The Bachelors programmes run for 7 semesters, ending with the academic title "Bachelor of Science", while the subsequent Masters programmes run for 3/4 semesters (depending on the subject chosen) and end with the academic title "Dipl.-Ing.".

There have been major structural changes as the result of the University Law 2002, with the introduction of the governing bodies: the Rectorate, Senate and University Council.

Campus expansion

In 1981 the university held more than 1000 students. A new record was reached with 3700 students in winter semester 2014. The old district court was converted into the Roh- und Werkstoffzentrum (RWZ) in 2006. The new IZW (Impulszentrum für Werkstoffe) was opened in 2007. This houses the academic organisational units, the MCL (Materials Center Leoben) and PCCL (Polymer Competence Center Leoben) competence centres and administrative organisational units for Montanuniversität, linked together via a glass bridge. The renovated lecture theatre wing, with its Erzherzog-Johann-Auditorium was reopened in Autumn 2009. The Polymer Engineering department relocated to the new Zentrum für Kunststofftechnik Leoben in Spring 2010. The former voestalpine research and data-processing centre has been converted into the Kunststofftechnik-Institute. The Impulszentrum Rohstoffe (IZR) opened in 2011, housing the research activities for the Mineral Resources Engineering and Petroleum Engineering departments. In autumn 2016, the Department of Petroleum Engineering moved into the newly renovated former Rabcewicz building, and two years later the premises of the former District Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry in Parkstraße were also occupied. In September 2020 the construction of the new study centre behind the Technology Transfer Centre started.