West Point in the Making of America

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Making the Modern Academy

West Point’s near collapse in World War I was not repeated in World War II, but the academy faced serious postwar challenges. Its persistent dilemma was balancing a four-year undergraduate education with the training of professional military officers. The problem became acute after World War II as officers' roles expanded into many nonmilitary areas at the same time that technical demands multiplied.



Maxwell D. Taylor (Class of 1922) became superintendent in late 1945. He updated and expanded the curriculum, adding courses in the humanities and social studies, and brought in outside speakers. But it was the 1956 arrival of Garrison Davidson (1927) as superintendent that began a definitive new reform era. Davidson’s proposals and the ferment he initiated produced the greatest transformation of the West Point curriculum since Sylvanus Thayer in the early 19th century.


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Garrison Holt Davidson




Key Figures






Garrison Holt Davidson
Garrison Holt Davidson
1904–1992
Class of 1927



Creighton Williams Abrams Jr.
Creighton Williams Abrams Jr.
1914–1974
Class of 1936



Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr.
Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr.
1912–2002
Class of 1936





Smithsonian National Museum of American History


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West Point in History Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue Restoring the Academy The Class the Stars Fell On Making the Modern Academy Class of 1980