In the 1870s, one’s ability to memorize arcane formulas and facts without necessarily acquiring the intellectual means for understanding them was key to academic success at the U.S. Naval Academy. For a “cadet-midshipman,” or future line officer, rote memory topped analytical skills in ten subjects ranging from “seamanship, ship-building, naval tactics and infantry tactics” to “electricity, English composition, French and Spanish.”1 Overall class standing, or “order of annual merit,” was determined by grades in these subjects, as offset by the “number of demerits” accumulated each year for unmilitary behavior.
Incubation of a World War I Flag Officer
At the U.S. Naval Academy in the late 1870s, future line officers—such as William S. Sims—and engineering officers followed separate rigorous courses of education. There was tension between the two groups, but both received the schooling necessary to embrace emerging technologies and lead the U.S. Navy in the Great War.
By Kenneth J. Hagan and Michael T. McMaster