Until the 1830s, West Point dominated American engineering. West Point offered the only academic training in the field in America, and Army engineers were a true elite. Only the top cadets of each West Point class were allowed to enter the Corps of Engineers, while only the top eight cadets in each class could enter the separate Corps of Topographical Engineers….
But these few could hardly supply the nation’s needs. Engineers who left the Army were besieged with job offers, and a civilian profession was developing through apprentice programs, especially on the Erie Canal. In 1835, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute first granted a degree in engineering. By 1850 so did Michigan, Harvard, Yale, Union, and Dartmouth. Meanwhile, technical knowledge was advancing at an exponential rate, and civilian engineers began denigrating their military counterparts for their rigid and dated training.