On The Yard


    This Is Monumental: Bill the Goat Sculpture

    By Bill the Goat on May 11, 2024

    This Is Monumental: Bill the Goat Sculpture

    In recent years, the term GOAT has come to signify “Greatest Of All Time,” often slapped on sports heroes, acting legends, and the spirited ten-year-old in rec basketball. But that name had a very different meaning years ago when the U.S. Naval Academy made the goat their official mascot. The U.S. Navy carried goats onboard ships for years, and in the early years of the Academy, the cadet at the bottom of his class at West Point was sneeringly named “the goat.” Here’s the story of how the beloved Navy Bill the Goat came to be, and how his striking copper image now reigns over the Yard in a powerful Bill the Goat Sculpture.


    Sidekicks of the Sea


    In the early days of the Navy, a goat was the perfect companion on the high seas. Since sailors deployed for months at a time, goats could help provide fresh dairy products, meat, fiber, and leather. They were smaller and more sure-footed than a cow, which would also be a great liability as the ships tossed and turned. And goats required less feed than bovines—and were excellent garbage disposals! They could also swim, a handy skill for an animal out at sea. Further, they made good friends, and this is how they became the unofficial mascot of the U.S. Navy.


    How Bill the Goat Began

    There are two origin stories about Bill the Goat, the original GOAT. Some say the first “Bill” was found in 1890 as some midshipmen marched towards the Army-Navy game at West Point. Some also say two ensigns on their way to a taxidermist in Baltimore with the goatskin of their ship’s mascot stopped by a football game in Baltimore. When the team was behind at halftime, one wrapped it around themselves and rallied the midshipmen, who took home the victory. The goat got the credit.


    Related: The Making of a Mascot — Bill the Goat.


    Either way, Bill became official when Commander Colby Chester, the USNA’s Commandant of Midshipmen from 1891-1894, pulled “El Cid,” the goat from USS New York, for the 1893 Army-Navy football game and brought Navy a 6-3 win. At the next Army-Navy game in 1900, the midshipmen brought another goat from that ship and won again. This goat was a lucky goat. He was christened Bill I, and became the mascot at the new Academy, which also counted pigeons, pigs, and a gorilla (!) as mascots.


    A Song


    In fact, the goat was so beloved, he even earned a song:

    “The Goat is Old and Gnarly”

    (from the 1941 edition of Reef Points, sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic)

    The Goat is old and gnarly,

    And he’s never been to school,

    But he can take the bacon

    From the worn out Army mule.

    He’s had no education,

    But he’s brimmin’ full of fight,

    And Bill will feed

    On Army mule tonight!

    Army, Army, call the doctor!

    Army, Army, call the doctor!

    Army, Army, call the doctor!

    You’re all in down and . . .

    (Spoken) Whoa! Any oats today, lady? No? Giddap!

    Army, Army call the doctor!

    You’re all in, down and OUT!


    A Plaque


    Today, we are up to Bill XXXVII, and he has been properly immortalized by two bronze statues, one of which sits prominently on the Yard right outside the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center. With a plaque at his base, you can read the history of “Billy:"




    The Naval Academy has had a goat as
    its mascot since 1890 when, according to
    legend, on their march from the ferry
    station at Highland Falls up the steep
    hill to West Point to play the first
    Army-Navy football game, the Naval
    cadets (as they were then known) saw
    a goat outside the noncoms' houses at
    West Point and promptly commandeered
    "Billy" for their mascot. Since that time,
    the goat has remained as the recognized
    mascot of the U.S. Naval Academy.


    This large muscular bronze statue was created by artist Clemente Spampinato in 1956 and dedicated in 1957. It captures the power and ferocity of the Bills that have served the Academy over the years. Ferocity is the most prized trait - in fact, one was even discharged due to his lack of “wicked eye and evil disposition.”


    As Bill has repeatedly gone head-to-head with the rival Army mule, he has emerged victorious more often than not, garnering him great fame. He has also been the star of a number of stunts. When a limo with the presidential flag and a security detail pulled up to the 1971 Army-Navy game, the West Point cadets saluted, thinking it was Richard Nixon. Instead, it was Bill.

    Related: 2023 Army-Navy Game Recap: The Rivalry Continues.


    Two Bills


    The current sculpture lived within Gate 1 of the USNA until 2010. It then received a five-year refresh from the Class of 1965, returning to Gate 1 in 2015. Sculptor Tony Thamasangvarn and Baltimore Art Nouveau Foundry added rank insignia, war devices, shrapnel from Vietnam, and a steel cube from a nuclear submarine. His blanket displays the varsity N, with the two N-stars tallying two football victories over Army. This spot is the perfect place to come reflect on the N*s, each representing the current varsity Navy wins over Army. Bill himself is majestic and timeless, an icon and beacon of strength and victory, the perfect encapsulation of the midshipmen’s courage, leadership, honor, and perseverance.


    The Class of 1965 also commissioned a second statue, which was placed on June 9, 2015, before being rededicated on October 24, 2015. This Bill can be found in the North End area of the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Visitors love to visit both Bills!


    Keep Tradition Going!


    There are many iterations of this famous goat, from the plushy version, to the printings on t-shirts and sweatshirts, to the collectible Bobbleheads. You can find them too! Get your own goat to take home at Navyonline.com, the Midshipmen Store, or the USNA Visitor Center Gift Shop, where a variety of REAL Navy apparel and gear showcase this historic hero. When you purchase from these shops, dine here, or take a USNA tour, all proceeds go to the Brigade, to fund midshipmen’s extracurricular activities like cultural arts, music, theater, club sports, and more. Come see where Bill makes USNA history happen, and bring your own piece home! Go Navy. Go Bill!

    Shop for Bill

    Bill the Goat
    Written by Bill the Goat | May 11, 2024


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