When Did West Point Start?
West Point, the United States military academy (USMA), for the training of regular army officers was established on March 16,1802 at West Point on the Hudson River about 50 miles (80 km) north of the city of New York. The place was already famous as the scene, 22 years earlier, of a dramatic incident in the War of Independence, when the traitor Benedict Arnold failed in an attempt to betray the strategically important position to the British.
Three chief reasons for the formation of the academy were: first, the fact that in the War of Independence the United States had been forced to rely on foreign military technicians; second, the belief of army leaders, including George Washington, that military techniques must be studied and not acquired solely through experience; third, the desire of some reformers for a new approach to the education of officers.
In 1812 the academy, which had been training only engineers, was reorganized and given more scope. In 1866 an Act of Congress was passed, to allow the selection of an academy superintendent who was not an engineer.
West Point is under the direct control of the army and the four year course of instruction leads to a science degree and a commission of second lieutenant in the regular army. Studies are balanced between mathematics and engineering sciences (55 per cent) and the humanities and social sciences (45 per cent). The cadets must be between 17 and 22 years old and unmarried, with a high school education. Aptitude tests and a medical examination must be passed before admission.
The Academy traces its roots to 1801, when President Thomas Jefferson directed, shortly after his inauguration, that plans be set in motion to establish the United States Military Academy at West Point. The entire central campus is a national landmark and home to scores of historic sites, buildings, and monuments. The majority of the campus’s Norman-style buildings are constructed from gray and black granite. The campus is a popular tourist destination complete with a large visitor center and the oldest museum in the United States Army.
Candidates for admission must both apply directly to the academy and receive a nomination, usually from a member of Congress or Delegate/Resident Commissioner in the case of Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. Other nomination sources include the President and Vice President of the United States. Students are officers-in-training and are referred to as “cadets” or collectively as the “United States Corps of Cadets” (USCC). Tuition for cadets is fully funded by the Army in exchange for an active duty service obligation upon graduation. Approximately 1,300 cadets enter the Academy each July, with about 1,000 cadets graduating.
The academic program grants a bachelor of science degree with a curriculum that grades cadets’ performance upon a broad academic program, military leadership performance, and mandatory participation in competitive athletics. Cadets are required to adhere to the Cadet Honor Code, which states that “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” The academy bases a cadet’s leadership experience as a development of all three pillars of performance: academics, physical, and military.
Most graduates are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army. Foreign cadets are commissioned into the armies of their home countries. Since 1959, cadets have also been eligible to “cross-commission”, or request a commission in one of the other armed services, provided that they meet that service’s eligibility standards. Every year, a very small number of cadets do this, usually in a one-for-one “trade” with a similarly inclined cadet or midshipman at one of the other service academies.
The academy’s traditions have influenced other institutions because of its age and unique mission. It was the first American college to have an accredited civil-engineering program and the first to have class rings, and its technical curriculum was a model for later engineering schools. West Point’s student body has a unique rank structure and lexicon. All cadets reside on campus and dine together en masse on weekdays for breakfast and lunch.
The academy fields fifteen men’s and nine women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sports teams. Cadets compete in one sport every fall, winter, and spring season at the intramural, club, or intercollegiate level. Its football team was a national power in the early and mid-20th century, winning three national championships. Its alumni and students are collectively referred to as “The Long Gray Line”, and its ranks include two Presidents of the United States (as well as the President of the Confederate States of America), presidents of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, numerous famous generals, and seventy-five Medal of Honor recipients.