Alfred Thayer Mahan



Occupation 1

naval historian

Occupation 2

naval strategist


sea power


The World


Age of Steam and Steel (1866-1920)






Text An 1859 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1859, midshipman Mahan criticized its anti-intellectualism and undemanding curriculum. He had an unimpressive early career at sea, where he was often seasick and disliked shipboard life. His service in the Civil War and in the post-war wooden navy was undistinguished. By 1872 he had reached the rank of commander, and in 1885 he was promoted to captain. He took no public role in the debate underway on the wisdom of creating a "steel navy" capable of more than coastal proetection. In 1885, Captain Stephen B. Luce, founder and president of the new U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island´┐Ż secured Mahan's appointment to the college to write and teach naval history. In 1890 he published The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. The book electrified foreign offices and war departments all over the world, althouh it was often mistakenly read as Mahan's call for a much more agressive role for America's navy as a means of forging an Americal global empire. Among those who did so was a fellow naval historian, Theodore Roosevelt.

He did advocate in 1890 a navy large enough, and the securing of coaling stations, to secure for Americans their Gulf and Caribbean coasts and their sparsely populated West Coast. He also favored the construction of an American-owned canal across Central America.

In 1892, now president of the War College, Mahan published a follow-up and extension of his earlier book, The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812. he retired in 1896, although he continued to write on naval strategy and published a memoir, From Sail to Steam, in 1907. Credited by some contemporaries for having invented the concept of "sea power," he seems instead to have been directly influenced by the writings of European naval expansionists. He remains, however, more than a century since he became so, the most conspicuous example of the U.S.naval-officer-as-public-intellectual.

Related Images

external image mahan_1890.jpg
external image head0_alfred_thayer_mahan_0000.jpg

Related People

Luce, Stephen B., Roosevelt, Theodore

Related Events

1884 - Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan appointed as professor, 1890 - Mahan publishes Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1983

Related Source

Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783
Influence of History on Mahan
Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812
From Sail to Steam

External Links

Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 [electronic version]

Related Institutions

U.S. Naval War College