Birth of Sylvanus Thayer

Birth of Sylvanus Thayer

US #1852 was issued on Thayer’s 200th birthday.

“The Father of West Point,” Sylvanus Thayer was born on June 9, 1785, in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Thayer lived with his parents on their family farm until he was eight years old, when he went to live with his uncle in New Hampshire.  He attended school there and  went on to study advanced mathematics at Dartmouth College and graduated the valedictorian of his class.

Thayer then received an appointment to West Point from President Thomas Jefferson.  He completed his coursework in one year and was made a second lieutenant in 1808.  Thayer’s first job in this role was to oversee the construction of Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.  After directing the defense of Norfolk, Virginia during the War of 1812, he was promoted to major. 

US #1852 – Classic First Day Cover.

In 1815, Thayer went to Europe to study at the French École Polytechnique for two years.  While there, he assembled a large collection of science and mathematics books.  Upon his return to the US in 1817, President James Monroe appointed him superintendent of West Point to replace the resigning Alden Partridge. 

US #1852 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Thayer became known as “the Father of West Point” because he reshaped the United States Military Academy.  Under his leadership, West Point became the nation’s first college of engineering.  Thayer’s curriculum reforms became the model for technical education across the United States.  He instituted military discipline and a rigorous course of study.  By improving the curriculum and class structure, he created one of the finest military academies in the world.

Item #M85-36 – Fleetwood First Day Maximum Card.

After 16 years as head of West Point, Thayer resigned in 1833 due to a disagreement with President Andrew Jackson.  The following year he was made an associate fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Thayer then returned to military service with the Army Corps of Engineers.  He spent most of the next 30 years as the chief engineer for Boston.  Thayer oversaw the construction of Forts Warren and Independence. 

US #789 from the Army and Navy Heroes issue.

During this time Thayer was also a member and later president of the Board of Engineers for Coast Defenses.  He also briefly commanded the Corps of Engineers for a year when its commander took a leave of absence.  Due to an extended sick leave, Thayer didn’t participate in the Civil War.  However, Fort Thayer was built and named after him in 1861 in Washington, DC.  He retired from the Army on June 1, 1863.

Item #59710A – West Point Coin First Day Cover.

In 1867, Thayer donated $40,000 to the trustees of his alma mater, Dartmouth College, to create the Thayer School of Engineering.  Two years later, he helped create the Military Academy’s Association of Graduates.  After his death on September 7, 1877, the Thayer Academy was established in Braintree, Massachusetts, according to his wishes.  And in 1958, West Point established the Sylvanus Thayer Award.

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6 responses to "Birth of Sylvanus Thayer"

6 thoughts on “Birth of Sylvanus Thayer”

  1. Some great stamps and great schools. I had the honor of graduating from Thayer Academy, in Braintree, but chose the Air Force over the Army. Interesting enough one of my Revolutionary ancestors walked to and enlisted at West Point. He was there when the Benedict Arnold incident occurred. He later went on to be a member of Washington’s “Life Guards”. Quincy was still part of Braintree when John Adams lived there and when Sylvanus Thayer was born.

  2. My middle name is Thayer, as I am related to that family. My great grandmother was a Thayer. There is also a Thayer Hotel at West Point named after Sylvanus Thayer.

  3. Thanks for the great history lesson. I live in California and have never been to east coast. Enjoyed the writing.

  4. A really interesting article and great update on West Point and the important and significant changes made by Sylvanus Thayer to make West Point better and one of the finest military academies in the world. He was indeed a great American military leader in many ways.


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