Alfred Thayer Mahan

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Alfred Thayer Mahan

Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (27 September 1840 - 1 December 1914) was a United States Navy officer, naval strategist, and educator, widely considered the world's foremost theorist of military sea power. The USS Mahan and the Mahan class destroyer were named after him.


Early life and service

Born at West Point, New York to Dennis Hart Mahan (a professor at the United States Military Academy) and Mary Helena Mahan, he went to Columbia University for two years and then, against his parents' wishes, transferred to the Naval Academy, where he graduated second in his class in 1859.

Commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1861, Mahan served the Union in the American Civil War as an officer on the USS Congress, USS Pocahontas, and USS James Adger, and as an instructor at the Naval Academy. In 1865 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and then to Commander (1872), and Captain (1885).

Despite his success in the Navy, his skills in actual command of a ship were not exemplary[1] (; and a number of vessels under his command were piloted into both stationary and moving objects.

College of Naval Warfare and writings

He was appointed commander of the new United States Naval War College in 1886, where in 1887 he met and befriended a young visiting lecturer named Theodore Roosevelt. During this period Mahan organized his lectures into his most influential books, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, and The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812, published 1890 and 1892, respectively.

The books' premise was that in the contests between France and England in the 18th century, domination of the sea via naval power was the deciding factor in the outcome, and therefore, that control of seaborne commerce was critical to domination in war. To a modern reader this may seem obvious and repeatedly demonstrated, but the notion was much more radical in Mahan's time, especially in a nation entirely obsessed with landward expansion to the west.

His books were received with great acclaim, and closely studied in Britain and Germany, influencing their buildup of forces in the years prior to World War I.

Later career

Between 1889 and 1892 he was engaged in special service for the bureau of navigation, and in 1893 Mahan was appointed to command the powerful new protected cruiser Chicago on a visit to Europe, where he was received and feted. He returned to lecture at the War College and then, in 1896, he retired from active service.

Mahan continued to write voluminously and received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, and McGill.

He became Rear Admiral in 1906 by an act of Congress promoting all retired captains who had served in the Civil War.


  • The Gulf and Inland Waters (1883)
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    Captain Alfred T. Mahan
  • The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 ( (1890) [available online from Project Gutenberg]
  • The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812 (1892)
  • Admiral Farragut (1892)
  • The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future ( (1897)
  • Lessons of the War with Spain, and Other Articles (1899)
  • The Problem of Asia and Its Effect Upon International Policies (1900)
  • Types of Naval Officers Drawn from the History of the British Navy, with Some Account of the Conditions of Naval Warfare at the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century, and of Its Subsequent Development During the Sail Period (1901)
  • Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812 (1905)
  • Naval Administration and Warfare: Some General Principles, with Other Essays (1908)
  • Armaments and Arbitration; or, The Place of Force in the International Relations of States (1912)
  • The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1805 (abridged ed, 1980)


fr:Alfred Mahan


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