West Point in the Making of America







West Point painting

Exhibition floorplan

The exhibition, West Point in the Making of America, 1802–1918, closed on January 11, 2004.

The bicentennial exhibition celebrated 200 years of the United States Military Academy, and told about the lives of selected West Point graduates who as graduates of the Academy became leaders for the United States Army—and also for American science, education, engineering, exploration, public works, business, manufacturing, communication, and transportation.

West Point: A Brief History

In the early 1800s, West Point was the country’s finest school of engineering and science. Its graduates helped advance American commerce and industry, and many rose to command on both sides of the Civil War. During the later 1800s, its curriculum became more narrowly military, its graduates more likely to make the army a career. When the United States entered World War I, West Pointers led many major staff bureaus and field commands. Decisive American intervention opened a new era in America’s relation to the world’s other nations.

World War I badly disrupted West Point, but also cleared the way for modernization. World War II brought more far-reaching changes. West Point’s 20th-century curriculum embraced new subjects required of the well-schooled officer. No longer did cadets follow just one prescribed curriculum. Those who might become an officer also changed. After mid-century West Point’s doors opened wider, first to African Americans and other minority men, and then, in 1976, to the formerly excluded women of America. By the end of the 20th century, the West Point faculty and corps of cadets were far more representative of the nation than they had been in the 19th century.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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