The Institute's essay program aligns perfectly with our mission:
"To provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense."
The subjects examined by the vast Naval community of those who think deeply and consider the successes, failures and future of maritime and national security policy cover a broad range of fascinating, critical topics, some of which are listed below. Individual essay contests are generally made possible with support from commercial defense contractors, whose interest in encouraging new ideas surrounding specific topics lines up with the Institute's mission to host such discussions. The centerpiece of the Institute's essay program is the General Prize.
The General Prize Essay contest is perhaps the oldest continuously conducted writing contest in the entire United States. The Institute began work on the Contest in 1878 under the leadership of the most recognized and celebrated Naval Strategist in United States history, Alfred Thayer Mahan, then the Chairman of the Naval Institute.
Lieutenant Commander Allan D. Brown first proposed the idea for an essay contest sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute for "a paper which shall be deemed the best" on 9 May 1878 at the organization's meeting in Annapolis. The first contest was in 1879. The name of the contest was changed in 1985 to the Arleigh Burke Essay Contest in honor of the World War II hero, former Chief of Naval Operations, and President of the Naval Institute. The name reverted to the General Prize in 2008. Today, the prizes honor the first, second, and third best articles published in Proceedings over the previous year, from October through September of the succeeding year.
Essay Contest may be found here.
Watch the pages of Proceedings and the usni.org home page for announcements concerning upcoming essay contests.
Since 1879 The Naval Institute flagship essay contest has been the General Prize. The Institute began work on the Contest in 1878 under the leadership of the most recognized and celebrated Naval Strategist in United States history, Alfred Thayer Mahan, then the Chairman of the Naval Institute. LCDR Allan D. Brown, USN first proposed the contest in May of 1878, a bold project for a young and struggling professional association with only 250 total members. The Contest was incorporated into the Naval Institute Constitution in 1884. Since that time the Contest has undergone regular changes in both name and process as succeeding Boards of the Naval Institute sought to maintain its relevance and currency.
The roster of Previous winners is a Who’s Who of distinguished naval Leaders starting with Mahan himself and including CDR Bradley Fisk, LT Ernest J. King, USN; LCDR Dudley Knox; LCDR J.K. Holloway, Jr., and ADM James Stavridis.
The subject for the 1st contest would ring as important today as it did in 1879: Naval Education for Officers and Men. There were 10 entries, all written in longhand.
The 10 essays were all identified by motto and the judges even those many years ago were careful to include a disclaimer that “they did not necessarily approve the opinions and proposals contained in the preferred essays, but had chosen those most thoughtful . . . in substance and most accurate in style.”
Ironically, the first winner was none other than the same LCDR Brown who had originally proposed having the contest. Accordingly, he was awarded a gold medal, a $100 cash prize and a Life membership (then valued at $30) and his winning essay appeared in Proceedings.
In 1890 the Board unanimously rejected the only three essays submitted as unworthy and immediately thereafter added a new section to the constitution authorizing the Board to refuse to award the Prize if no essay was worthy.
Today the Prize continues in its 135th consecutive year, and following a seven year period where winners were chosen from among published articles in Proceedings in the previous twelve months. In 2014 the Contest is reverting to the traditional essay contest model that has served it so well since 1879.
The Mission of the U.S. Naval Institute clearly encourages “…an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense”. The Institute’s General Prize Essay Contest is an enduring endorsement of that principle, and invites an open, annual forum to discuss the most compelling and forward thinking ideas on issues raised by those wishing to enter the great debate that is the General Prize Essay Contest. There is no restriction on theme. This is an acknowledgment that an important component of the Contest is your opinion concerning the most pressing issues, and your approach on the way forward.
1st Prize $6,000 + One year membership in the USNI
2nd Prize $3,000 + One year membership in the USNI
3rd Prize $2,000 + One year membership in the USNI
Note: All prize winners receive a one-year U.S. Naval Institute membership.
Prize winners are honored as part of USNI’s Recognition ceremony during the Naval Institute's Annual Meeting, or at some other event to be determined by the Institute.
Essay contests have been central to the work of the Naval Institute for well over one hundred years. They directly fulfill the Institute’s educational mission by encouraging writing on issues of concern to the Sea Services. They provide thought-provoking articles that spur ongoing discussion of these same issues, not only in Naval Institute media, print and digital, but also in other leading defense and national security forums.