The History of the United States Military Academy at West Point
The first blog in our “History of the U.S. Service Academies” series focused on the United States Air Force Academy, the youngest service academy. Now, we want to jump a few centuries back in history to focus on the founding of the United States Military Academy (West Point).
Not only is West Point the oldest service academy, but it is also one of the oldest national institutions in the United States.
West Point is Constructed During the Revolutionary War
Unofficially, the United States Military Academy was constructed on the west point of the Hudson River (hence the name) during the American Revolutionary War in 1778.
Because this area of upstate New York saw so much military action during the conflict and represented an important military position, troops began building fortifications here to defend against the encroaching British army.
After the war, in 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation to officially establish the United States Military Academy on this same sight. Since then, West Point has been fully operational and has produced some of the nation’s finest Army officers.
Sylvanus Thayer Upgrades West Point
Although West Point graduated its first commissioned officers in 1802, it didn’t become a systematic institution until 1817, when Sylvanus Thayer became the superintendent.
Under Thayer’s rule, West Point began instituting more stringent academic standards, military discipline, and a code of conduct to which cadets are still held.
Thayer even initiated the tradition of the class ring, making West Point the first university to adopt this tradition. Now, all service academies and most universities have class rings as a tradition.
West Point Co-Educates and Evolves
Fast forward 159 years, and the United States Military Academy accepts females to its Corps of Cadets. Now, female cadets represent nearly 15 percent of the student body.
The school has been on the cutting-edge of the technological revolution as well, an ode to its history as a civil engineering school. Indeed, in 1996, West Point was one of the first schools to allow the use of the Internet in dorms and throughout campus.
When a school is more than 200 years old, it makes sense that it follows more than few traditions.
One tradition, called The Class Goat, actually honors the worst-performing cadet. The goat, also the mascot of West Point, is a container filled with $1,000 (one dollar given by each cadet) and presented to this last cadet as he or she graduates.
The Flirtation Walk, or “Flirtie Walk,” is a footpath on campus where cadets historically take their romantic partners. This tradition actually dates back to the Revolutionary War, when cadets escorted their dates along this scenic walkway.
More seriously, West Point prides itself on the tradition of the Long Grey Line. When cadets graduate from the United States Military Academy and commission as officers, they join this long grey line of every other West Point graduate who has gone before them.
They commit themselves to Duty, Honor, and Country.
Supporting VeteransWhen young women and men commit to West Point and sign themselves up to defend our nation, they make an incredible sacrifice. Some make the ultimate sacrifice.
Our Armed Forces rely on our support, and it’s more important than ever to show that we have the backs of our nation’s defenders.
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