1937 5¢ Seal of U.S. Naval Academy
Army and Navy
Issue Date: May 26, 1937
First City: Annapolis, MD
Quantity Issued: 36,819,050
The United States Naval Academy
Decades after America’s first ships took to the oceans to defend its interests, the US Naval Academy was opened on October 10, 1845.
The Continental Navy was founded during the American Revolutionary War to battle the Royal Navy at sea. And in 1783, Revolutionary naval hero John Paul Jones first proposed that America establish a school to train midshipmen. But after the war ended, the navy was demobilized to save money.
America wasn’t without its navy for long, though. In 1794, President George Washington convinced Congress to create a new navy to face the rising threat of pirates. Decades later, President John Quincy Adams asked Congress to create a Naval Academy, yet they still didn’t see it as a priority.
Though Congress wouldn’t create a formal academy, that didn’t mean others didn’t create their own. There were smaller naval academies in Philadelphia, New York City, Norfolk, Virginia, and Boston, Massachusetts. In fact, in September 1842, an American brig left the Brooklyn Naval Yard with teenage naval apprentices on board. The young men were undisciplined and schemed to mutiny the ship. The story was national news and led many to doubt the idea of sending young recruits out on the boats.
But Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft believed in the importance of the academy and fought for its establishment, as well as Congressional funding. The Naval School, as it was then known, opened its doors on October 10, 1845 with a class of 50 midshipmen and seven professors. The school occupied a 10-acre Army post named Fort Severn in Annapolis, Maryland. During the Civil War, Annapolis was considered too close to the Confederacy, so the midshipmen were moved to Newport, Rhode Island.
Initially, students attended for five years – spending the first and last years in the classroom and the others at sea. In 1850, the school was renamed the United States Naval Academy. Students now attend school for four years, spending their summers at sea.
The Academy’s graduates proved themselves during the Spanish-American War, which brought great attention to the Naval Academy and led to the school’s expansion. Many new buildings were constructed between 1899 and 1907. More expansion was completed in 1976 – the year women midshipmen were first admitted to the academy.
Candidates must be nominated by an official source, such as the president, members of Congress, or the Navy and Marine Corps. About 1,300 people are selected to enter the freshman class each year based upon entrance exam scores and rigid physical requirements. After successfully completing four years of rigorous physical and scholastic challenges, graduates, receive a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as officers.
USNA graduates have participated in every major US conflict since the Mexican-American War.
Birth Of Admiral William T. Sampson
US Navy Rear Admiral William T. Sampson was born on February 9, 1840, in Palmyra, New York.
Sampson graduated first in his class from the US Naval Academy in 1861. After graduation, he remained at the academy for a time to teach physics.
In 1864, Sampson was made executive officer of the monitor Patapsco. In that role, he was part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron that swept enemy torpedoes away from the Charleston, South Carolina Harbor during the Civil War. In 1865, a torpedo struck the Patapsco, claiming the lives of 75 crew members, but Sampson survived.
After the war, Sampson served on the steam frigate Colorado with the European Squadron. He also returned to the Naval Academy to teach and worked in the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation. Sampson additionally served aboard the screw sloop Congress, commanded the Alert, the training ship Mayflower, and Swatara.
Sampson went to serve as Superintendent of the US Naval Observatory, Officer-in-Charge of the Naval Torpedo Station in Rhode Island, and Superintendent of the Naval Academy. After being promoted to captain in 1889, Sampson was made Inspector of Ordnance in the Washington Navy Yard. Following the destruction of the USS Maine (an event that contributed to the Spanish-American War), Sampson was appointed president of the Board of Inquiry to investigate the explosion.
In March 1898, Sampson received the temporary rank of rear admiral and was placed in command of the North Atlantic Squadron. A month later the US declared war on Spain and shortly after, Sampson set out for Cuba aboard his flagship New York. Sampson supervised the blockade of Cuba and the bombardment of San Juan.
Sampson was then ordered to intercept Spanish Admiral Cervera’s squadron, whose whereabouts were unknown. On May 29, 1898, Admiral Cervera’s squadron was spotted moving into Santiago harbor. The harbor was blockaded to prevent Cervera’s escape.
Sampson was on land on the morning of July 3, 1898, planning a coordinated attack on the city of Santiago. Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley was in command in Sampson’s absence. Under Schley’s command, Sampson’s men met and destroyed the Spanish fleet in a five-hour battle. The following day, as America celebrated Independence Day, Sampson sent his famous message, “The Fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present, the whole of Cervera’s Fleet.”
There was no mention of Schley’s leadership in Sampson’s declaration of victory. Soon after, a controversy arose over who deserved credit for this victory. Sampson had laid down the framework for the battle ahead of time and had the ships in the right positions, but Schley had actually commanded the fleet during the battle.
After that battle, Sampson was made Cuban commissioner but shortly after resumed his command of the North Atlantic Fleet. He served as Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard before retiring in 1902.
Sampson died on May 6, 1902. Four destroyers were later named in his honor as well as the US Naval Academy’s Sampson Hall. There’s also a town in Wisconsin named after him.