The formation was carved by glaciers and was first recorded as being discovered by a surveying team around 1805.
The Old Man was famous largely because of statesman Daniel Webster, of New Hampshire, who once wrote: "Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoe makers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men."
Freezing and thawing opened fissures in the Old Man's forehead. By the 1920s, the crack was wide enough to be mended with chains, and in 1957 the state legislature passed a $25,000 appropriation for a more elaborate weatherproofing, using 20 tons of fast-drying cement, plastic covering, and steel rods and turnbuckles, plus a concrete gutter to divert runoff from above.
Nevertheless, the formation collapsed to the ground between midnight and 2 a.m., May 3, 2003. Dismay over the collapse was so great that people left flowers at the base of the cliffs in tribute.