The United States Naval Academy is a federal service academy in Annapolis, Maryland, established on October 10, 1845, under Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft. Often simply called Annapolis, it is the second oldest of the United States’ five service academies, and educates officers for commissioning primarily into the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. The 338-acre campus is located on the former grounds of Fort Severn at the confluence of the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay in Anne Arundel County, 33 miles (53 kilometers) east of Washington, D.C., and 26 miles (42 km) southeast of Baltimore. The entire campus is a National Historic Landmark and home to many historic sites, buildings, and monuments. It replaced Philadelphia Naval Asylum, in Philadelphia, that served as the first United States Naval Academy from 1838 to 1845 when the Naval Academy formed in Annapolis.
The school opened with 50 midshipman students and seven professors. The decision to establish an academy on land may have been in part a result of the Somers Affair, an alleged mutiny involving the Secretary of War’s son that resulted in his execution at sea. Commodore Matthew Perry had a considerable interest in naval education, supporting an apprentice system to train new seamen, and helped establish the curriculum for the United States Naval Academy. He was also a vocal proponent of modernization of the navy. Originally a course of study for five years was prescribed. Only the first and last were spent at the school with the other three being passed at sea.
The present name was adopted when the school was reorganized in 1850 and placed under the supervision of the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography. Under the immediate charge of the superintendent, the course of study was extended to seven years with the first two and the last two to be spent at the school and the intervening three years at sea. The four years of study were made consecutive in 1851 and practice cruises were substituted for the three consecutive years at sea. The first class of naval academy students graduated on June 10, 1854.
In 1860, the Tripoli Monument was moved to the academy grounds. Later that year in August, the model of the USS Somers experiment was resurrected when the USS Constitution, then 60 years old, was recommissioned as a school ship for the fourth-class midshipmen after a conversion and refitting begun in 1857. She was anchored at the yard, and the plebes lived on board the ship to immediately introduce them to shipboard life and experiences.
The Civil War was disruptive to the Naval Academy. Southern sympathy ran high in Maryland. Although riots broke out, Maryland did not declare secession. The United States government planned to move the school, when the sudden outbreak of hostilities forced a quick departure. Almost immediately the three upper classes were detached and ordered to sea, and the remaining elements of the academy were transported to Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island by the USS Constitution in April 1861, where the academy was set up in temporary facilities and opened in May. The Annapolis campus, meanwhile, was turned into a United States Army Hospital.
The United States Navy saw 24% of its officers resign and join the Confederate States Navy, including 95 graduates and 59 midshipmen, as well as many key leaders involved with the founding and establishment of USNA. The first superintendent, Admiral Franklin Buchanan, joined the Confederate States Navy as its first and primary admiral. Captain Sidney Smith Lee, the second commandant of midshipmen, and older brother of Robert E. Lee, left Federal service in 1861 for the Confederate States Navy. Lieutenant William Harwar Parker, CSN, class of 1848, and instructor at USNA, joined the Virginia State Navy, and then went on to become the superintendent of the Confederate States Naval Academy. Lieutenant Charles “Savez” Read may have been “anchor man” (graduated last) in the class of 1860, but his later service to the Confederate States Navy included defending New Orleans, service on CSS Arkansas and CSS Florida, and command of a series of captured Union ships that culminated in seizing the US Revenue Cutter Caleb Cushing in Portland, Maine. Lieutenant James Iredell Waddell, CSN, a former instructor at the US Naval Academy, commanded the CSS Shenandoah. The first superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory, advocate of the creation of the United States Naval Academy, after whom Maury Hall is named, similarly served in the Confederate States Navy.
The midshipmen and faculty returned to Annapolis in the summer of 1865, just after the war ended. Civil War hero Admiral David Dixon Porter became superintendent in 1865. He found the infrastructure at Annapolis a shambles, the result of ill military use during the War. Porter attempted to restore the facilities. He concentrated on recruiting naval officers as opposed to civilians, a change of philosophy. He recruited teachers Stephen B. Luce, future admirals Winfield Scott Schley, George Dewey, and William T. Sampson. He reinstated Professor Lockwood. The midshipman battalion consisted of four companies. They held dress parades every evening except Sunday. Students were termed “cadets”, though sometimes “cadet midshipmen”; other appellations were used. Porter began organized athletics, usually intramural at the time.
Antoine Joseph Corbesier immigrated from Belgium and was appointed to the position of Swordmaster at USNA in October 1865. He coached Navy fencers in intercollegiate competition between 1896 and 1914. By special act of Congress, he was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant in the Marine Corps on March 4, 1914. He died on March 26, 1915 and is buried on Hospital Point.
In 1867, indoor plumbing and water was supplied to the family quarters. In 1868, the figurehead from the USS Delaware, known as “Tecumseh” was erected in the yard. Class rings were first issued in 1869. Weekly dances were held. Wags called the school “Porter’s Dancing Academy.” President U.S. Grant distributed diplomas to the class of 1869. Porter ensured continued room for expansion by overseeing the purchase of 113 acres (46 ha) across College Creek, later known as hospital point.
In 1871, color competition began, along with the selection of the color company, and a “color girl.”
In the 1870s, cuts in the military budget resulted in graduating much smaller classes. In 1872, 25 graduated. Eight of these made the Navy a career. The third class physically hazed the fourth class so ruthlessly that Congress passed an anti-hazing law in 1874. Hazing continued in more stealthy forms.
John H. Conyers of South Carolina was the first black admitted on September 21, 1872. After his arrival, he was subject to severe, ongoing hazing, including verbal torment, and beatings. His classmates even attempted to drown him. Three cadets were dismissed as a result, but the abuse, including shunning, continued in more subtle forms and Conyers finally resigned in October 1873. In 1875, Albert A. Michelson, class of 1873, returned to teach. He began his experiments with optics and the physics of light, which resulted in the first accurate measure of the speed of light. In 1874, the curriculum was altered to study naval topics in the final two years at the academy. In 1878, the academy was awarded a gold medal for academics at the Universal Exposition in Paris.
The Spanish–American War of 1898 greatly increased the academy’s importance and the campus was almost wholly rebuilt and much enlarged between 1899 and 1906. On August 23, 1911, the Navy officers on flight duty at Hammondsport, New York, and Dayton, Ohio, were ordered to report for duty at the Engineering Experiment Station, Naval Academy, “in connection with the test of gasoline motors and other experimental work in the development of aviation, including instruction at the aviation school” being set up on Greenbury Point, Annapolis. Naval flight training moved to NAS Pensacola, Florida, in January 1914.
In 1912, the Reina Mercedes, sunk at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, was raised and used as the “brig” ship for the academy. In 1914, the Midshipmen Drum and Bugle corps was formed and by 1922 it went defunct. They were revived in 1926. Many firsts for minorities occurred during this period. In 1877, Kiro Kunitomo, a Japanese citizen, graduated from the academy while in 1879, Robert F. Lopez was the first Hispanic-American to graduate.
In the late nineteenth century, Congress required the academy to teach a formal course in hygiene, the only course required by Congress of any military academy. Tradition holds that a congressman was particularly disgusted by the appearance of a midshipman returned from cruise.
The Navy rowing team won the gold medal at 1920 Summer Olympics Games held in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1923, The Department of Physical Training was established. The Naval Academy football team played the University of Washington in the Rose Bowl tying 14–14. In 1925, the second-class ring dance was started. In 1925, the Midshipmen Drum and Bugle Corps was formally reestablished. In 1926, “Navy Blue and Gold”, composed by organist and choirmaster J. W. Crosley, was first sung in public. It became a tradition to sing this alma mater song at the end of student and alumni gatherings such as pep rallies and football games, and on graduation day. In 1926, Navy won the national collegiate football championship title. In the fall of 1929, the Secretary of the Navy gave his approval for graduates to compete for Rhodes Scholarships. Six graduates were selected for that honor that same year. The Association of American Universities accredited the Naval Academy curriculum on October 30, 1930.
In 1930, the class of 1891 presented a bronze replica of Tecumseh to replace the deteriorating wooden figurehead that had been prominently displayed on campus.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law an act of Congress (Public Law 73-21, 48 Stat. 73) on May 25, 1933, providing for the bachelor of science degree for Naval, Military, and Coast Guard Academies. Four years later, Congress authorized the superintendent to award a bachelor of science degree to all living graduates. Reserve officer training was re-established in anticipation of World War II in 1941.
A total of 3,319 graduates were commissioned during World War II. Dr. Chris Lambertsen held the first closed-circuit oxygen SCUBA course in the United States for the Office of Strategic Services maritime unit at the academy on May 17, 1943. In 1945, A Department of Aviation was established. That year a Vice Admiral, Aubrey W. Fitch, became superintendent. The naval academy celebrated its centennial. During the first century of its existence, roughly 18,563 midshipmen had graduated, including the class of 1946.
The academy and its support facilities became part of the Severn River Naval Command from 1941 to 1962. An accelerated course was given to midshipmen during the war years which affected classes entering during the war and graduating later. The students studied year around. This affected the class of 1948 most of all. For the only time, a class was divided by academic standing. 1948A graduated in June 1947; the remainder, called 1948B, a year later.
From 1946 to 1961, N3N amphibious biplanes were used at the academy to introduce midshipmen to flying. On June 3, 1949, Wesley A. Brown, the sixth African-American to enter the academy, became the first to graduate, followed several years later by Lawrence Chambers, who would become the first African American graduate to make flag rank.
The 1950 Navy fencing team won the NCAA national championship. The Navy eight-man rowing crew won the gold medal at 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. They were also named National Intercollegiate Champions. In 1955, the tradition of greasing Herndon Monument for plebes to climb to exchange their plebe “dixie cup” covers (hats) for a midshipman’s cover started. The 1959 fencing team won the NCAA national championship, and became the first to do so by placing first in all three weapons (foil, épée, and saber). All three fencers were selected for the 1960 Olympic team, as was head coach Andre Deladrier. The Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, funded by donations, was dedicated September 26, 1959.
Joe Bellino (class of 1961) was awarded the Heisman Trophy on June 22, 1960. In 1961, the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference was started. The Department of the Interior designated the U.S. Naval Academy a National Historic Landmark on August 21, 1961.
The 1962 fencing team won the NCAA national championship. In 1963, Roger Staubach, class of 1965, was awarded the Heisman Trophy.
In 1963, the academy changed from a marking system based on 4.0 to a letter grade. Midshipmen began referring to the statue of Tecumseh as the “god of 2.0” instead of “the god of 2.5”, the former failing mark. The academy started the Trident Scholar Program in 1963. From three to 16 juniors are selected for independent study during their final year.
Professor Samuel Massie became the first African-American faculty member in 1966. On June 4, 1969, the first designated engineering degrees were granted to qualified graduates of the class of 1969. During the period 1968 to 1972, the academy moved beyond engineering to include more than 20 majors. In 1970, the James Forrestal Lecture was created. This has resulted in various leaders speaking to midshipmen, including Henry Kissinger, football coach Dick Vermeil, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
On August 8, 1975, Congress authorized women to attend service academies. The class of 1980 was inducted with 81 female midshipmen. In 1980, the academy included “Hispanic/Latino” as a racial category for demographic purposes; four women identified themselves as Hispanic in the class of 1981, and these women become the first Hispanic females to graduate from the academy. In May 1980, Elizabeth Anne Belzer (later Rowe) became the first woman graduate. On May 23, 1984, Kristine Holderied became the first woman to graduate at the head of the class. In addition, the class of 1984 included the first naturalized Korean-American graduates, all choosing commissions in the U.S. Navy. On March 12, 1995, Lieutenant Commander Wendy B. Lawrence, class of 1981, became a mission specialist in the space shuttle Endeavour. She is the first woman USNA graduate to fly in space.
On September 11, 2001, the academy lost 14 alumni in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon. The academy was placed under unprecedented high security.
On November 3, 2007, the Navy football team defeated long-time rival Notre Dame for the first time in 43 years – 46–44 in triple overtime. The two teams have met every year since 1926 and continue a rivalry that became amicable when Notre Dame volunteered to open its facilities for training of naval officers in World War II. The Navy was credited with saving the University of Notre Dame after its enrollment fell during World War II to about 250 students. The Navy trained 12,000 men to become officers.
During the First World War, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt suggested that a series of stamps should be issued to honor the heroes of the United States Army and Navy. A decision to issue such a set was finally made in March 1936 at the suggestion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, reportedly pleased with the popularity of the National Parks issues of 1934-1935. An announcement was made in a press release issued by the United State Post Office Department on May 5, 1936, which stated that Postmaster General James A. Farley had approved separate five-denomination series for both the Army and the Navy. The press release stated that the stamps would be issued about August 1 of that year. This was pushed back twice with a long period of inactivity but it was finally announced at the end of November that the one-cent Army and Navy stamps would be released on December 15. The others were released at intervals with the five-cent values appearing on May 26, 1937.
Scott #794 was described in the USPOD press release as having:
“…for the central design a reproduction of the official seal of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., flanked on either side by naval cadets, the one at the left wearing the uniform of the early days of the Academy, and the one at the right in the present-day uniform. At the top of the stamp, on the left, is the wording: ‘United States Postage’ in dark gothic, arranged in two lines, and in a corresponding position at the right are the words: ‘U.S. Naval Academy.’ In each lower corner is the large numeral ‘5’ in white. In a narrow panel with sloping ends and dark ground, at the center of the lower edge of the stamp, is the inscription: ‘Five Cents’ in white roman.”
A design had been submitted to the Post Office Department on March 31, 1937, which showed the cadets and the seal in a design that was much too small. This was rejected. A further design was submitted on April 22 and approved by Postmaster General Farley the follow day. This was designed by Alvin R. Meissner after photographs supplied by the Naval Academy. The pictures supplied consisted of a group of cadets as well as an individual cadet of the Academy’s early days. Another picture showed a modern group of cadets standing in front of one of the USNA buildings. The vignette was engraved by F. Paulding while the lettering and the frame were engraved by W.B. Wells.
The order to print 30,000,000 of the 5 cent Navy stamps was placed with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on April 29, 1937. These stamps were printed in blue on the rotary press in unwatermarked sheets of 200 subjects divided into panes of 50 by horizontal and vertical gutters five-sixteenth of an inch wide. After being perforated at a gauge of 11×10½, the 200 subject sheets were cut through the center of these gutters into panes of 50, and so issued to post offices. The first two plates went to press on May 14 and the last two on May 19. On the latter date, the BEP made its first delivery to the Post Office Department. The stamps were issued on May 26, 1937, at Annapolis, Maryland, with first day sales totaling 370,500, of which most were used on 220,800 first day covers. According to The New York Times, collectors crowded the Annapolis post office from morning until midnight stamping first day covers. The same report stated that a group of covers was sent to the White House for the collection of the President.