West Point eye exam

West Point eye exam
Mark off fourteen feet and give it a try. (Source: daveoratox via flickr.com under Creative Commons license)

While researching for an article on George Armstrong Custer, I ran across this mention of the eye examination the cadets had to pass if they wanted to attend the West Point Military Academy.

“Visual acuity was tested by having the aspirant tell whether a dime, held up fourteen feet away, was ‘heads’ or ‘tails.’”1

It didn’t say which dime was used, but there were only three choices available. The Draped Bust was minted from 1796 until 1807. This dime was 0.740 inches or 18.8 mm in diameter. About the size of our current penny.

Draped Bust Dime, introduced 1796. (Source: coincommunity.com)

In 1808 the dime was changed to what’s known as the Capped Bust which was reduced in size to 0.7283 inches or 18.5 mm.

Capped Bust Dime, introduced 1808. (Source: 50eastchurch.com)

Last and perhaps the most likely for Custer’s time was the Seated Liberty minted from 1837-1891. That coin has the same diameter as the dimes we use today: 0.705 inches or 17.91 mm. I doubt if the minor size differences would change the exam results for most people.

Seated Liberty Dime, introduced 1837. (Source: usacoinbook.com)

Being a flatlander I can see for miles, and although my optometrist says I have great eyesight for my age, I flunked the test. How about you?


  1. James L. Morrison, Jr., The Best School in the World: West Point, the Pre-Civil War Years, 1833–1866 (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1986), 65.
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