Ranks of the Naval Service
First recognized in 1794, the rank of midshipman was the lowest title held by an officer. Most midshipmen received training at sea as a boy or teenager and proved themselves competent sailors to continue up the officer ranks. The word comes from the ship location, amidships, and references either the location midshipmen worked or where berthed. With the adoption of steam powered vessels the Navy established official training programs. Eventually leading to the founding of the Naval Academy in 1845.
In July 1870 title terminology changed as a midshipman became known as cadet midshipman. Other title iterations include cadet, naval cadet, or cadet engineer. It was not until July 1902 that today’s recognized title of midshipman returned.
As plebes or Fourth Class Midshipmen, freshman have no insignia, indicative of their low standing. Midshipman Third Class (sophomores) have one diagonal strip on their shoulder boards and Service Dress uniform left sleeve, as well as one fouled anchor collar device on the right lapel. Midshipmen Second Class have two diagonal stripes on their left sleeve Service Dress and shoulder boards, and fouled anchors on both lapels. Midshipmen First Class without a staff position are known as midshipmen in ranks, indicated with anchors and eagle collar devices and a single horizontal stripe on shoulder boards and both Service Dress uniform sleeves. First Classmen with positions are known as stripers with a rank structure that parallels naval officers. The Brigade Commander is the highest ranking midshipmen, a 6-striper or Midshipman Captain.
 William B. Cogar, Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy, Volume 2: 1901 to 1918, (Annapolis, MD, 1991), xiii.
Naval and Marine Corps Officer Ranks
Upon completion of exams, graduates were known as “passed midshipmen” for up to two years while training at sea and awaiting an opening in the officer ranks. In the old Navy hierarchy an officer had to resign, retire, or die for upward movement in the ranks. When a spot opened, graduates became “Master” or “Ensign” depending on the time period. During the American Civil War, a July 16, 1862 legislation solidified the current rank structure.
 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Naval Affairs, Laws Relating to the Navy, 67th Cong., 2d sess., 1922, 662.