February 15, 1898 — Havana, Cuba
On January 25, 1898, the USS Maine arrived in Havana harbor to protect and evacuate Americans if circumstances in Cuba became violent. While Spanish authorities acted cordially, the Maine’s captain Charles Sigsbee prevented his men from going ashore. Unexpectedly, on February 15, 1898, at 9:40 pm the Maine exploded in the harbor, killing 260 officers and men. Yellow journalists in America, those who favored sensational headlines over factual ones, immediately blamed the Spanish and called for a declaration of war, even though a U.S. Naval investigation ruled that a submarine mine caused the explosion. President McKinley tried to keep America out of war, but the Maine explosion and a war-mad public made a conflict with Spain inevitable. Whether or not the Spanish blew up the Maine mattered little when the public had already determined Spain’s guilt.
To this day, various theories on the USS Maine explosion continue to circulate. Another investigation in 1911 concluded again that a mine caused the explosion, but in 1976 Admiral H.G. Rickover presented evidence that a spontaneous combustion inside the ship’s coal bunkers caused the destruction. Ironically, this conclusion matches the findings of the Spanish investigation in 1898. Although unlikely that Spain blew up the Maine, the loss of this ship and American lives created a war-hungry atmosphere which started the Spanish-American War and resulted in a new imperialistic United States of America.