This day in history, February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded and sunk in Cuba’s Havana Harbor, killing 260 Americans on board.
Built as one of America’s first battleships, the USS Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after a rebellion against Spanish rule broke out in Havana that January.
An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled that March that the ship was blown up by a mine, without directly placing the blame on Spain. Much of Congress and the American public expressed little doubt that Spain was responsible for the explosion and called for a declaration of war.
Following the explosion, diplomatic failures to resolve the matter, in addition to the United States’ resentment over Spain’s brutal suppression of the Cuban rebellion and continued losses to American investment, led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898.
Within three months, the United States had decisively defeated Spanish forces on land and sea, and in August an armistice halted the fighting.
On December 12, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, officially ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire. Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States.
In 1976, naval investigators made the determination that the USS Maine exploded because of a fire that ignited the battleships ammunition stock.