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United States Military Academy

United States Military Academy, at West Point, N.Y.; for training young men and women to be officers in the U.S. army; founded and opened in 1802. The original act provided that the Corps of Engineers stationed at West Point should constitute a military academy, but the growing threat of war with England in 1812 resulted in congressional action to increase the corps and to expand the academy's facilities. Changes in curriculum and organization made by Sylvanus Thayer, superintendent from 1817 to 1833, earned him the title Father of the Military Academy. In the 19th cent. the military academy was one of the nation's major sources of civil engineers, and its graduates made excellent records in the Mexican War and especially in the Civil War. After 1866 the academy was no longer formally related to the Corps of Engineers. The academy is now under the general direction and supervision of the Dept. of the Army. Its enrollment has greatly expanded since its founding and at present is about 4,300 cadets. The curriculum, too, has been greatly modernized, notably under Douglas MacArthur, its superintendent from 1919 to 1922.

An applicant must obtain a nomination to be considered for an appointment to the academy. The sources of nomination are the President of the United States; the Vice President; U.S. Senators and Representatives; and the representatives of the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. Special appointment categories include children of deceased and disabled veterans or of career military personnel, foreign students, regular U.S. army, U.S. army reserve, honor graduates of military and naval schools and ROTC, and children of Medal of Honor recipients. Candidates must be between the ages of 17 and 22 and must meet physical and educational qualifications.

Cadets undergo a four-year course of instruction on full scholarship, with summers devoted to practical military training, and are paid a monthly salary. Graduating cadets receive a bachelor's degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. Women have been admitted since 1975 and, in the 1990s, they constituted more than 10% of the academy's 4,000 cadets. The West Point Museum contains ordnance and military trophies of historical interest. It is one of the most important college museums in the United States. George W. Cullum compiled a valuable biographical register of West Point cadets.

See T. J. Fleming, West Point (1969); J. Ellis and R. Moore, School for Soldiers (1974).

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