U.S.S. Maine: Definition, Facts & Explosion

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Quotes, Biography, Books & Accomplishments

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Background
  • 0:56 U.S.S. Maine & Spanish…
  • 2:39 Who Blew Up the U.S.S. Maine?
  • 4:05 U.S.S. Maine in Modern Memory
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Hill
The U.S.S. Maine was a second-class battleship commissioned in 1895 that was part of the new U.S. Navy fleet of steel ships. It exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898 and precipitated U.S. entry into the Spanish-American War.


The construction of the U.S.S. Maine was rooted in U.S. naval expansion of the 1880s. The U.S. Navy had fallen into serious decline following the Civil War, and it had fallen behind several nations in ship technology. In 1883, U.S. Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt secured funds from Congress to build modern steel ships. U.S. naval yards turned out a number of vessels known as the ABCD ships, which were the steel-hulled Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Dolphin battleships.

Larger and more powerful upgrades soon appeared. The U.S.S. Maine was one of them. A 6,682-ton second-class battleship, it was built in the New York Navy Yard and commissioned in September 1895. Its primary duty was to patrol the Atlantic and Caribbean. Its fame, however, came from its role in the Spanish American War.

U.S.S. Maine and the Spanish-American War

Cuba revolted against Spanish rule in 1895, which caught the attention of the United States. The U.S. was interested in Cuba for a variety of reasons, from economic trade to general humanitarian issues. American opinion was divided on intervention, but in December 1897 the American consular-general in Cuba, Fitzhugh Lee, asked for the U.S.S. Maine to be moved to Key West, Florida, in the event of war.

A month later in January 1898, Secretary of the Navy Stephen D. Long ordered the U.S.S. Maine's commanding officer, Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, to move the ship to Havana Harbor as a show of strength. Spain resented the ship's presence but did nothing overtly to retaliate. However, only three weeks after being stationed there, it exploded on February 15, 1898, killing over 260 men, two-thirds of the crew. The United States immediately concluded that Spain was responsible, but Spain accused the United States of sabotaging its own ship as an excuse for war.

President William McKinley wanted to move cautiously, but newspaper giants such as William Randolph Hearst, editor of the New York Journal, and Joseph Pulitzer, editor of the New York World, worked hard to convince the American people to support war. The war cry, 'Remember the Maine' became a common jingle in journalistic circles. President McKinley asked the U.S. Congress to declare war on Spain in April 1898, which it did. The war was a pivotal event, marking the point at which the United States began to expand overseas. Meanwhile, the U.S. ordered an official investigation into the cause of the explosion.

Who Blew Up the U.S.S. Maine?

A U.S. Navy board of investigation in March 1898 concluded that the cause was likely an external mine. George Melville, the Navy's Chief Engineer, and Philip Alger, the Navy's top ordinance expert, doubted the results and argued that an internal explosion in the magazine room was more likely the cause. However, they were not part of the official investigation team.

A follow-up investigation in 1911 concluded the same result, given that its hull was bent into an inverted V-shape that pointed inward, suggesting an explosion from the outside. However, in 1975, yet another investigation took place under Admiral Hyman Rickover, the so-called 'Father of the Nuclear Navy' who utilized more modern investigative techniques. Rickover reached the conclusion that the explosion was internal and the result of spontaneous combustion in the coal holdings compartment located under the forward magazine room. Many historians consider this the definitive investigation and the findings conclusive.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account