Today in History: The USS Maine takes off in Cuba’s Havana Harbor

The USS Maine takes off in Cuba’s Havana Harbor

A massive surge of unknown origin sinks the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, eliminating 260 of the less than 400 American crew members aboard.

  • One of the first American battleships, Maine weighed more than 6,000 tons and was built at the cost of more than $2 million. Seemingly on a friendly go to, Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after a rebellion against Spanish rule broke out in Havana in January.
  • An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled in March that the ship was blown up by a mine, without straight blaming Spain. Much of Congress and a bulk of the American public revealed little doubt that Spain was responsible and required a statement of war.
  • Subsequent diplomatic failures to fix the Maine matter, combined with United States anger over Spain’s brutal suppression of the Cuban disobedience and continued losses to American financial investment, led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898.

Within three months, the United States had decisively beaten Spanish forces on land and sea, and in August an armistice stopped the combating. On December 12, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed in between the United States and Spain, formally ending the Spanish-American War and approving the United States its very first overseas empire with the ceding of such previous Spanish belongings as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

In 1976, a group of American marine private investigators concluded that the Maine surge was likely triggered by a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not by a Spanish mine or act of sabotage.