[Updated for 2023]
It’s an uncommon word, and many wonder about its origins. “What is a midshipman?” We’re here to provide some context. The title of midshipman has its roots in the Royal Navy. Dating back to the 1600s, this category of rank was filled with experienced deckhands promoted to work a specific location amidships, usually between the main and mizzen masts, hence the “mid” term. Over the next two centuries, the position of midshipman eventually evolved to become the rank given to officer candidates.
Bringing the Name Across the Pond
Following the Royal Navy’s example, the United States Navy adopted this term and implemented the rank of midshipman for those who were in training to become naval officers. First preferring an apprenticeship system to train its officers, it wasn’t until the planned mutiny and ensuing fallout from the Somers Affair in 1842 that it became clear to the U.S. Navy their current system for training officers was in dire need of a change. Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft created a school to train naval officers, and in 1845 the grounds of Fort Severn in Annapolis were home to what we now know as the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA). Students at the Academy were initially known as Passed Midshipmen until the Class of 1912 which was the first USNA class to graduate as Ensigns.
The second oldest of the five United States Service Academies after West Point, the USNA has grown into an expansive site covering almost 339 acres and is now home to more than 4,400 midshipmen. With a population rivaling a small town, a large number of facilities and services have been put into place to support this prestigious institution.
What’s Life Like as a Midshipman?
Life on the Yard is rigorous, leaving midshipmen with little extra time regular college students might have for taking care of non-academic necessities. While students at another university may find time between classes for running errands or taking a nap, a midshipman’s day is a regimented progression of academic, athletic, and training activities. With such a tight schedule, leaving the Yard isn’t always possible. Therefore, it is necessary to have everything a midshipman will need for day-to-day life close by and easily accessible.
If there’s one time-consuming chore college students always need to make time for, it’s laundry. For USNA midshipmen, laundry piles up at an even quicker rate when all the uniform items are taken into consideration. While self-service washers and dryers are available in Bancroft Hall, midshipmen do not need to wait around for machines to be free or for cycles to complete. Weekly laundry and dry-cleaning services are provided by the Naval Academy Business Services Division (NABSD) in a facility built to handle the tremendous volume.
Midshipmen at USNA also need to visit the barber more often than a traditional college student to ensure their haircut remains within regulations. Conveniently located in the basement of Bancroft Hall, the USNA Barber Shop offers unlimited hair services available by appointment or as walk-ins.
With as much time as they spend on their feet, footwear also needs to be regularly maintained. Midshipmen can save both time and money by visiting the Cobbler Shop in the 5th Wing Services Mall of Bancroft Hall. Whatever issues the shoes exhibit, chances are the cobblers can fix it. From rips to complete sole replacements, the Cobbler Shop is fully equipped to handle the task.
Meal preparation is another task from which midshipmen are relieved. The monumental effort of preparing more than 13,500 meals per day falls on the Midshipmen Food Services Division. It’s even more impressive that the entire Brigade takes its meals together in King Hall. Midshipmen are seated, served, and finished eating in roughly 40 minutes. Of course, sometimes even the scheduled meals may not be enough to keep a midshipman’s hunger at bay. When craving a late-night snack additional dining options are nearby, like the Steerage Restaurant, which offers smoothies, salads, and other healthy options, along with perennial late-night favorites like pizza and chicken tenders.
When uniforms begin to fit a little more snugly in some areas or too loosely in others, they must be altered to maintain a professional look. Also found in Bancroft Hall’s 5th Wing Services Mall is the Tailor Shop whose mission is to provide expert alterations, repairs, and monogramming services to the Brigade.
Various items often need to be purchased during a busy day. When a midshipman needs a new notebook before heading off to class, the Midshipmen Store is a quick stop away. Or if a midshipman suddenly finds themselves missing a uniform item, they can visit the Uniform Store.
Support the Midshipmen
When you visit the Yard and take a USNA tour, shop in one of our stores or dine in our restaurants, you’re supporting the midshipmen too, since proceeds go to Brigade of Midshipmen to fund a wide variety of USNA extracurricular activities, like the cultural arts, theater, music, club sports and more that fuel midshipmen camaraderie, teamwork and fun. Book a trip today to come support the Brigade, and see the life of a midshipman in action!