USS Maine, circa 1897
On February 15, 1898, at 9:40 p.m., the battleship USS Maine exploded then sank in Havana Harbor, killing about 260 of the 355 men on board. This international disaster, which the United States blamed on Spain, became an important catalyst for the Spanish-American War.
At the time, Cuban guerillas were engaged in a brutal fight for independence from Spain. Riots in Havana in January 1898 prompted the United States, which supported Cuba for both humanitarian and imperialistic reasons, to send the Maine to Havana as a show of strength. The ship, commanded by Captain Charles Sigsbee, arrived on January 25 and sat quietly in the harbor for the next few weeks.
Explosion and U.S. Reaction
But on the night of February 15, two explosions rocked the ship, sinking the Maine. The casualties were predominantly among the enlisted men, as they were quartered in the forward part of the ship, where the explosions occurred.
Although there was no hard evidence that the sinking was caused by the Spanish, a sizeable portion of the American public began clamoring for retribution almost immediately, spurred on by “yellow press” accounts that focused on sensationalism more than fact. “Remember the Maine!” quickly became a rallying cry.
First Official Inquiry and Declaration of War
An official U.S. court of inquiry was set up soon after the loss of the Maine to investigate the cause. Its findings, which did not assign blame, revealed in March that the sinking was caused by an underwater mine, which had led to the explosion of the forward magazines.
Under pressure from all sides, the pro-peace William McKinley finally saw war with Spain as inevitable (for a number of reasons, though the Maine was the most visible instigating event). President McKinley asked Congress for a resolution of war, which was declared on April 25.
In later years, two other major investigations into the loss of the Maine were completed. A second official investigation in 1911 came to the same conclusion as in 1898: the Maine had sunk as the result of a mine. However, an investigation led by Admiral Hyman Rickover concluded in 1976 that the explosions were caused by a coal-bunker fire adjacent to one of the ship’s magazines. Disagreement and speculation on the cause of the sinking continues to this day.
Learn more about the Sinking of the USS Maine through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the Sinking of the USS Maine
Newspaper headlines announce "The Battleship Maine Blown Up in Havana Harbor" Wed, Feb 16, 1898 – 1 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.comUnited States battleship USS Maine is destroyed by an explosion in Havana Harbor Wed, Feb 16, 1898 – Page 3 · Dixon Evening Telegraph (Dixon, Lee, Illinois) · Newspapers.comCause of the sinking of the Maine yet to be determined on day after the explosion Wed, Feb 16, 1898 – Page 4 · The Allentown Leader (Allentown, Lehigh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comList of the officers and crew who were aboard the Maine when it sunk on February 15, 1898 Wed, Feb 16, 1898 – Page 3 · Evening Star (Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPolitical cartoon about the sinking of the USS Maine published the day after the explosion Wed, Feb 16, 1898 – Page 1 · The Evening Times (Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America) · Newspapers.com"The Nation's Sorrow": Political cartoon about sinking of the Maine Thu, Feb 17, 1898 – Page 1 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com"Appalling Nature of the Maine Disaster Gives Ground for Suspicion of Treachery" by Spain Thu, Feb 17, 1898 – Page 1 · The Tennessean (Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee, United States of America) · Newspapers.comSectional drawing of the USS Maine traced from Navy's records Thu, Feb 17, 1898 – Page 2 · The World (New York, New York, New York) · Newspapers.comEditorial: "What or who destroyed the Maine?" Fri, Feb 18, 1898 – 6 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.comUnited States declines Spain's request to join U.S. investigation into sinking of the Maine Sat, Feb 19, 1898 – Page 1 · The Des Moines Daily News (Des Moines, Polk, Iowa) · Newspapers.comNavy says it's unlikely bodies of the Maine victims can be returned to U.S. for burial Sun, Feb 20, 1898 – 3 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.comAn opinion that the explosion that sunk the Maine was "not due to any external cause" Sun, Feb 20, 1898 – 3 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.comNewspaper headlines say "Nothing but a mine could have blown up" the Maine Sun, Feb 20, 1898 – Page 1 · The World (New York, New York, New York) · Newspapers.comDescription of the burial of an unidentified body from the sinking of the Maine Fri, Mar 4, 1898 – 2 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.com1898 court of inquiry determines Maine explosion was caused by underwater mine Mon, Mar 28, 1898 – Page 1 · El Paso Herald (El Paso, El Paso, Texas, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPresident McKinley’s message to Congress about the 1898 Maine disaster Sat, Apr 2, 1898 – Page 4 · Baxter Springs News (Baxter Springs, Cherokee, Kansas, United States of America) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from an editorial demanding "the punishment of Spain for the Maine massacre" Tue, Apr 12, 1898 – Page 6 · Washington Times (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.comU.S. Congress formally declares war on Spain on April 25, 1898 Mon, Apr 25, 1898 – Page 1 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Alameda, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.com1911 official investigation into the Maine confirms 1898 findings that it was sunk by a mine Fri, Dec 15, 1911 – Page 4 · Pittston Gazette (Pittston, Luzerne, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comAdmiral Rickover concludes in 1976 that Maine explosion was caused by coal-bunker fire, not a mine Wed, Aug 18, 1976 – Page 23 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comOn 100th anniversary, people still hold different views on the cause of the Maine explosion Sun, Feb 8, 1998 – Page 6 · Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Luzerne, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.com