By the end of the 19th century, the United States was seeking to flex its international muscle, and acquire an overseas empire as had most of the industrial European powers. Cuba’s desire for independence from Spain in the 1890s eventually provoked the United States to declare war on Spain, and after a few short months of fighting in 1898, the US had acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American War.
The battle cry of the Spanish-American War was “remember the Maine.” President William McKinley had sent the nation’s newest battleship, the USS Maine, to Havana harbor to protect American interests in the region. On February 15, 1898, the Maine exploded and sank. At the time, the US accused Spain of deliberately attacking the ship. However, later historians have determined that an internal explosion caused the disaster.
Within day, McKinley had declared war on Spain. Fighting took place in Cuba, famously characterized by Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. Their victory at San Juan Hill helped cement Roosevelt’s popular image in America. In the Pacific, Commodore George Dewey led the navy in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. Guam surrendered in June, with a single shot being fired in anger. The Spanish-American War may have been a brief war, but it shaped the United States into an empire, indicating the arrival of a new industrial power on the world stage.