United States Military Academy

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(Redirected from West Point)
Alternate meanings: West Point (disambiguation).
The Chapel at West Point
The Chapel at West Point

The United States Military Academy, also known simply as West Point and USMA, is a U.S. military academy and former Army fort. It is located in West Point, New York, on the west bank of the Hudson River about 50 miles (80 km) north of New York City, and occupies 16,000 acres (65 km²) adjacent to the village of Highland Falls, New York in Orange County. The post itself was first occupied in 1778, and it is thus the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States.

West Point's motto is Duty, Honor, Country.



Academy graduates are awarded a Bachelor of Science degree and commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. They must serve a minimum of five years on active duty followed by three years in the reserves. Unlike virtually all other bachelor-degree granting institutions in the U.S. (but like the other military academies), the Academy does not refer to its students as freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors; they are instead officially called "fourth class," "third class," "second class," and "first class." Colloquially, freshmen are "plebes"; sophomores, "yearlings" or "yuks"; juniors, "cows"; seniors, "firsties."

The Military Academy's sports teams were historically called The Black Knights of the Hudson, but the nickname has been officially shortened to Black Knights. U.S. sports media use Army as a synonym for the Academy; this usage is officially endorsed. The Army mascot is the Mule. After several years as a member of Conference USA, its NCAA Division I-A football program reverted to its former independent status after the 2004 season. It competes with the other academies for the Commander in Chief's Trophy. The 2004 football season marked Army's third consecutive loss in the Army-Navy Game. It is a member of the Division I Patriot League in most other sports; its men's hockey program competes in Atlantic Hockey.


The site was selected for the construction of a fort by George Washington, and the fortifications were designed in 1778 by Thaddeus Kosciuszko. General Washington considered West Point one of the most important positions on the continent. The high ground above a narrow "s" curve in the Hudson River enabled the Continental Army to control the vital river traffic. He felt that the British Army could have split the colonies in two if they gained control of this land.

George Washington quickly realized the need for a national military academy, however his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson argued that there was no provision in the Constitution which allowed for the creation of a military academy. However, when Jefferson became president, he signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy on March 16, 1802 and the school opened on July 4 of the same year.

The Superintendent from 1817-1833 was Col. Sylvanus Thayer. He is known as the "father of the Military Academy." He upgraded academic standards, instilled military discipline and emphasized honorable conduct. Inspired by the French École Polytechnique, Thayer made civil engineering the foundation of the curriculum. For the first half century, USMA graduates were largely responsible for the construction of the bulk of the nation's initial railway lines, bridges, harbors and roads.

The development of other technical schools in the US during the post-Civil War period allowed West Point to broaden its curriculum beyond a strict civil engineering focus.

After World War I, Superintendent Douglas MacArthur sought to further diversify the academic curriculum. In recognition of the physical demands of modern warfare, MacArthur pushed for major changes in the physical fitness and athletic programs. "Every cadet an athlete" became an important goal. At the same time, the cadet management of the Honor System, long an unofficial tradition, was formalized with the creation of the Cadet Honor Committee.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation increasing the strength of the Corps of Cadets from 2,529 to 4,417 (more recently reduced to 4,000).

Women were first admitted in 1976.

No classes graduated in 1810 or 1816 and there were two graduating classes in 1861, 1917, 1918, 1922 and 1943.

West Point began collegiate tradition of the class ring, beginning with the class of 1835, and continuing ever since. The lone exception is the class of 1837, which had class cuff links.

In recent decades, the Academy's curricular structure has been markedly changed to permit cadets to major in any one of more than a dozen fields, including a wide range of subjects from the sciences to the humanities.

Notable graduates

Note: Some notable graduates also later served as Superintendent of the Academy (see list below)


The writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe dropped out of West Point before graduating. He would have been in the class of 1834.

James McNeill Whistler, artist, dropped out of the class of 1855.

List of Superintendents

For the tourist

Limited tours are given on the campus. The academy provides a bus, driver and guide for small groups that are made up as needed from individual arrivals. West Point is often the first place for automobile tourists to stop and view on the New York City to Albany scenic Hudson River route.

External links

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