With the stroke of his pen on this day in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the United States Air Force Academy into existence.
Plans for the Academy in essence began the moment the Air Force officially became its own branch of the service as part of the National Security Act of 1947.
The Army established its United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1802. The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, followed in 1845. Thus, the creation of the Air Force created the need for an aviators’ academy as well.
However, plans literally sat on the tarmac awaiting takeoff until 1949, at which point Defense Secretary James Forrestal appointed a board of military and civilian educators to jumpstart the process. Among them: Eisenhower, the retired U.S. Army general who served as the president of Columbia University in New York at the time, and Robert Stearns, then the president of the University of Colorado. They were asked to create a general system of education for all three academies.
While they developed the curriculum, Air Force Secretary Harold E. Talbot established his own commission aimed at searching for a permanent site for the new Academy campus. Their search covered 580 sites in 45 states before they chose Colorado Springs, a city 70 miles south of Denver. It turned out to be an excellent one because of its proximity to Denver and Lowry Air Force Base.
On April 1, 1954, Eisenhower – now U.S. president – signed the bill authorizing the establishment of the Academy he had helped create as a university president.
The Air Force Academy swore in its first class of 306 cadets on July 11, 1955 at Lowry Air Force Base, which served as the Academy’s home for its first three years while construction commenced on the new Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs.
The first cadets moved to the new campus in August 1958, and a year later 207 became the first to graduate from the permanent facility.
In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation allowing women to be admitted to the academics, with the first entering the Air Force Academy in June 1976. The first women graduated in 1980, among them Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson who went onto become the Academy’s first woman superintendent.
Today the Academy is home to more than 4,000 cadets and has graduated more than 50,000 officers since admitting its first class in 1955.