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Sylvanus Thayer

Sylvanus Thayer

United states colonel

Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Sylvanus Thayer (June 9, 1785 – September 7, 1872) also known as "the Father of West Point" was an early superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point and an early advocate of engineering education in the United States.

Early life and education

Sylvanus Thayer (9 June 1785-7 Sept. 1872) was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Thayer, a gentleman farmer, and his wife Dorcas Faxon. In 1793, at the age of 8, Thayer was sent to live with his uncle Azariah Faxon and attend school in Washington, New Hampshire. There he met General Benjamin Pierce, who, like Faxon, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. In 1803 Thayer matriculated at Dartmouth College, graduating in 1807 as valedictorian of his class. However, he never gave the valedictory address at Dartmouth, having been granted an appointment to West Point by President Thomas Jefferson at the behest of General Pierce. Thayer graduated from the United States Military Academy after a single year and received his commission as a second lieutenant in 1808. His first assignment was to supervise the construction of Fort Warren (later renamed Fort Winthrop) in Boston Harbor, foreshadowing the bulk of his later career.

During the War of 1812, Thayer directed the fortification and defense of Norfolk, Virginia, and was promoted to major. In 1815, he was provided $5,000 to travel to Europe, where he studied for two years at the French École Polytechnique. While traveling in Europe he amassed a collection of science and especially mathematics texts that now form a valuable collection for historians of mathematics.

Superintendent of West Point

In 1817, President James Monroe ordered Thayer to West Point to become superintendent of the Military Academy following the resignation of Captain Alden Partridge. Under his stewardship, the Academy became the nation's first college of engineering.

While at West Point Thayer established numerous traditions and policies which are still in use at West Point. These include the values of honor and responsibility, strict mental and physical discipline, the demerit system, summer encampment, high academic standards and the requirement that cadets maintain outstanding military bearing and appearance at all times.

One of Thayer's reforms was to establish a standard four year curriculum with the cadets organized into four classes. Starting with the Class of 1823, July 1st was the date each year when the graduating class was commissioned and the entering class was sworn in. The graduation date was moved up to June 15 starting in 1861.

Many of the cadets who attended West Point during Thayer's tenure held key leadership positions during the Mexican War and American Civil War.


June 9, 1785
Sylvanus Thayer was born in Braintree.


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