KV UMa (XTE J1118+480) is an X-ray binary that is known to undergo outbursts in 2000 and 2005. This paper presents the discovery of a large outburst starting in 1927 on the archival photographic plates and an analysis of the long-term optical activity of this system. We used the photographic data from DASCH (Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard). We placed the 1927 outburst in the context of the observed outbursts of KV UMa. We show that it is a double event, with a precursor similar to the one of the outbursts in 2000. We find a big difference between the 1927 and 2000 outbursts as regards the length of the gap between the precursor and the main outburst. It is more than 250 d in 1927, whereas it is about 20 d in 2000, although the brightnesses of all peaks are mutually comparable. We also show that the individual optical outbursts of KV UMa differ from each other by the duration of the stage of a slow decline of brightness (sometimes roughly a plateau). This determines the length of the entire main outburst. Both the peak magnitude and the brightness of the outburst when the slow decline transitions to a steep final decaying branch plausibly reproduce in all three outbursts. In the interpretation, the short duration of the precursor is caused by the fact that only the thermal-viscous instability operated in the accretion disk while also the tidal instability of the disk contributed in the subsequent main outburst.