Lieutenant Commander Allan D. Brown first proposed the idea for an essay contest sponsored by the . Naval Institute for "a paper which shall be deemed the best" on 9 May 1878 at the organization's meeting in Annapolis. The first contest was in 1879. The name of the contest was changed in 1985 to the Arleigh Burke Essay Contest in honor of the World War II hero, former Chief of Naval Operations, and President of the Naval Institute. The name reverted to the General Prize in 2008. Today, the prizes honor the first, second, and third best articles published in Proceedings over the previous year, from October through September of the succeeding year.
The ocean's surface is closely approximated by an equipotential surface, (ignoring ocean currents) commonly referred to as the geoid . Since the gravitational force is equal to the potential's gradient , there are no tangential forces on such a surface, and the ocean surface is thus in gravitational equilibrium. Now consider the effect of massive external bodies such as the Moon and Sun. These bodies have strong gravitational fields that diminish with distance and act to alter the shape of an equipotential surface on the Earth. This deformation has a fixed spatial orientation relative to the influencing body. The Earth's rotation relative to this shape causes the daily tidal cycle. Gravitational forces follow an inverse-square law (force is inversely proportional to the square of the distance), but tidal forces are inversely proportional to the cube of the distance. The ocean surface moves because of the changing tidal equipotential, rising when the tidal potential is high, which occurs on the parts of the Earth nearest to and furthest from the Moon. When the tidal equipotential changes, the ocean surface is no longer aligned with it, so the apparent direction of the vertical shifts. The surface then experiences a down slope, in the direction that the equipotential has risen.