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“The Modern Sphinx has Spoken: The American Battleship is No Longer an Unknown Quantity,” chromolithograph by Louis Dalrymple, Puck, June 1, 1898

Just weeks after the United States entered into war against Spain in April 1898, a popular magazine recognized American naval powerThe cover image––a U.S. battleship surrounded by the ruins of a Spanish fleet––celebrated a major American victory on May 1 in Manila Bay, the Philippines, where the U.S. Navy destroyed eight Spanish ships.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“The Modern Sphinx has Spoken: The American Battleship is No Longer an Unknown Quantity,” chromolithograph by Louis Dalrymple, Puck, June 1, 1898

Creating a Modern Navy

The end of the nineteenth century was a time of change for the U.S. Navy as the nation became increasingly engaged in international affairs. When proponents of a “Big Navy” called for state-of-the-art steel ships to protect the United States and its interests, Congress responded with the Battleship Act of 1890, the first significant legislation authorizing construction of new battleships. Marking an era of greater U.S. naval power, the ships played a significant role in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

To carry on even a defensive war with any hope of success we must have armored battle-ships. . . . for it is not to be tolerated that the United States, with its population, its revenue, and its trade, is to submit to attack upon the threshold of its harbors

Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy, Report of the Secretary of the Navy to Congress, October 15, 1889