Almost from the earliest days of the Naval Institute, its essay contests have been one of its most important functions. The idea of having such an event was first proposed by Lieutenant Commander Allan D. Brown, USN, at the 9 May 1878 meeting of the Naval Institute. The Chair at the time, Commander Alfred Thayer Mahan, USN, Vice President of the Naval Institute, appointed as chairman of a committee Commander William T. Sampson, USN, to prepare a prize to be offered to the author of a paper deemed the best out of those submitted.

An essay contest on professional subjects for American naval officers clearly was indicated, but for a young and struggling organization with a total membership of only 250, it was a bold project to undertake.  On 13 June 1878, with Commander Mahan again “in the Chair,” Commander Sampson delivered the report of his committee, which was adopted without change. The rules for the essay contest were adopted by resolution “without reference to the Constitution.”

This action created the Naval Institute’s Prize Essay Contest. In 1948, the name changed to the General Prize Essay Contest. For the period of 1985–2007 the name changed to the Arleigh Burke Essay Contest to honor World War II hero and Cold War Navy CNO and Naval Institute President Admiral Arleigh Burke. From 2008–2013, the Naval Institute awarded General Prizes, but these went to authors of Proceedings articles judges as the best in a calendar year. 

In 2014, the General Prize Essay Contest came back as generally envisioned by the Naval Institute’s founding fathers. Currently, the Naval Institute sponsors 14 essay contests a year.

The bottom line in all these essay contests is the Naval Institute remains committed to those authors who dare to write to advance the naval profession.

Note:  All the essay contests include publication of the winning essays in Proceedings or Naval History magazine, recognition of the winners at a public event and cash prizes.  Visit https://www.usni.org/essay-contests for specific details –– e.g., eligibility, word length, deadlines.