Born in Braintree, Massachusetts, Thayer graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1807 as valedictorian. That year he entered the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, graduating the following year and being commissioned in the Corps of Engineers. Thayer served as an assistant professor of mathematics at West Point from 1809 to 1811. During the War of 1812 he directed the fortification and defense of Norfolk, Virginia. Having graduating at the top of his class at West Point, Thayer was funded to study for two years (1815-1817) at the École Polytechnique in France. Upon his return he was appointed superintendent of West Point. Under his leadership, civil engineering became the core of the curriculum, and the school became the nation’s first college of engineering and one of the world’s leading military-engineering schools. Thayer is credited with the creation of American technical education and with establishing the educational philosophy and discipline still utilized at West Point. He resigned as superintendent in 1833, remaining in the Army Corps of Engineers. For the next 30 years Thayer was the chief engineer for the Boston area, designing and overseeing the construction of Fort Warren on Georges Island, Fort Independence on Castle Island, and Fort Winthrop (now Logan International Airport) on Governors Island. He served as a colonel during the Civil War, retiring from the U.S. Army in 1863. In 1867 he funded the creation of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, and subsequently designed the school’s curriculum. Thayer died at the age of 87 in Braintree and was buried at the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery in West Point. The Thayer Academy in Braintree was established as a result of his will.