5 Facts About The U.S. Military Academy at West Point

On March 16, 1802, the U.S. Congress authorized the opening of a military engineering academy at the site of the military fort at West Point in New York. Here are five things you probably didn't know about the U.S. Military Academy at West Point...

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West Point is The Site of Benedict Arnold’s Infamous Betrayal Chances are you first heard of Benedict Arnold in elementary school, his name a symbol of being a traitor -- but you might have forgotten why. He was the general of West Point (then called Fort Arnold) during the Revolutionary War and tried to make a backroom deal with the British. In it, he was supposed to give the fort at West Point to the British for what was then an amazing amount of money (some sources say it was 20,000 pounds) and a command position with the British. Unfortunately, the man who was supposed to finalize the deal with Arnold was on a ship that was turned away that day by American fire; the man was later captured and the plot discovered.

West Point Didn't Admit Women Until 1976 West Point's cadets were all male until 1976, when the first class of 119 women joined the school. Sixty-two completed the training and graduated in 1980. From the start, the class had a tough time; they faced resentment and chauvinism, men claimed the push to admit women into the academy was alienating, and of all things, the women's uniforms were initially designed without pockets (there was no real reason for eliminating pockets in the uniforms for women, by the way).

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Black Cadets Were Accepted Relatively Early on But Faced a Lot of Racism. After the Civil War, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point started admitting black cadets in 1870, which was considered a progressive move. However, much of the administration was not on board with treating black cadets as they did white cadets and displayed racist, bullying behaviors. This caused the first black cadet to be accepted to drop out.  The first black cadet to graduate, Henry Ossian Flipper, was falsely charged with embezzlement and convicted of conduct unbecoming of an officer despite his classmates supporting his innocence. Flipper did receive a pardon, but only in 1999.

Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton Purchased The Land Despite American forces inhabiting West Point starting in 1778, the American government did not own the land. The land was owned by a private citizen, a Mr. Stephen Moore of North Carolina. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton authorized the army's purchase of the land for $11,085 in 1790.

West Point Started as The First Engineering School in the U.S. Originally, the academy was intended to be a science school, and when it was finally created, it became what was essentially the first engineering-based school (although it became a full military academy a few years later). It remained the only engineering school in the country until 1824, and it continued to produce excellent engineers, many of whom went on to work on some of the most important structures in the world, including the Panama Canal.