Alfred Thayer Mahan was born on 27 September 1840 at West Point, New York, where his father, Dennis Hart Mahan, was a distinguished professor of Civil and Military Engineering at the US Military Academy. He died in Washington, DC on 1 December 1914, and is buried at Quogue, Long Island.
Young Mahan spent his early years at West Point, until he was sent to a boarding school in Maryland, St. James School, near Hagerstown, in 1852. Two years later he entered Columbia College, in New York City, and through the influence of Jefferson Davis, he obtained an appointment to the Naval Academy, and by special arrangement (the only occasion on record of that concession being made) he entered the Third Class, on 7 October 1856, as Acting Midshipman.
He was graduated from the Naval Academy in 1859, second in his class of twenty members, rose to the rank of Lieutenant during the Civil War, became a Captain in 1885, and was transferred to the Retired List of the Navy, at his own request, on 17 November 1896. He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral on the Retired List, with date of rank 29 June 1906.
After his graduation from the Naval Academy in 1859, he was assigned to the frigate Congress from 9 June 1859 until 1861. He then joined the steam-corvette Pocahontas of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and participated in the attack on Port Royal, South Carolina, early in the Civil War. During that cruise, from which he was detached in 1862, he wrote a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy suggesting that a sailing ship be outfitted as a "mystery" ship to decoy Confederate blockade runners.
He was next sent to the Naval Academy, then at Newport, Rhode Island, as an instructor, and during the summer of 1863 he made a cruise with the midshipmen to Europe in the Macedonian. In October 1863 he joined the Seminole of the West Coast Blockading Squadron and later served on the staff of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, USN, Commander, South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, off Charleston, South Carolina. He reported on 31 May 1865 to the Mucoota, and soon thereafter was transferred to the Iroquios, in which he went to the Orient. He was present at the opening of the treaty ports of Kobe and Osaka, Japan in 1867.
Completing his duty on China Station in 1869, he was granted permission to visit in Europe, and after his return to the United States was ordered to the USS Worcester, chartered by the Navy Department as a relief ship to carry foodstuffs to the French people who had been reported in dire need. He was detached from that duty on 3 August 1871 and in December 1872 assumed his first command, the USS Wasp, of the South Atlantic Squadron. He continued in that command until January 1875, when he was ordered to return to the United States, and home to await further orders.
In August 1876, he was designated as a member of the Board of Examiners at the Naval Academy, and during his period of duty there he won third prize in 1878 in the Naval Institute's contest for the best essay on "Naval Education for Officers and Men." This was the first article he had accepted for publication. In the summer of 1880 he was ordered to the Navigation Department, New York Navy Yard, and on 9 September 1883, he assumed command of the Wachusett at Callao, Peru. In the Wachusett he visited ports on the west coast of South America.
In October 1885 he was assigned duty as Lecturer on Naval Tactics and History at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, and in 1886 he was appointed President of the Naval War College. He had additional duty, while there, as President of the Commission to select the site for a Navy Yard on the Pacific Coast, in the region of Puget Sound, and for a short period was attached to the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, Washington, DC.
In 1890 he wrote Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, the first of twenty books and twenty-three essays on this broad subject.
In 1893 he was given command of the USS Chicago, flagship of a squadron sent to European waters to return visits made by foreign vessels during the celebration in 1892-1983 of Columbus' discovery of America. After a cruise of Northern Europe and Mediterranean ports, the Chicago under Captain Mahan's command, returned to the United States in March 1895, and in May he returned to the Naval War College for special duty. At his own request he was retired on 17 November 1896, after forty years of active service, in order to devote his full time to writing on naval subjects.
He returned to active duty at the beginning of the Spanish-American War, and in May 1898 was appointed to the Naval Board of Strategy. In 1899 he served as one of the American delegates at the First Peace Conference at the Hague, The Netherlands. During the years to follow, he was recalled to active service as Member of the Board of Visitors, Naval Academy, (May 1903); with the Senate Commission on Merchant Marine (November 1904); to report on studies and conclusions of the Naval War Board during the War with Spain (July 1906); as a Member of the Committee on Documentary Historical Publications under the Committee on Departmental Methods (October 1908); as a Member of the Commission to Report on Re-organization of the Navy Department (February 1909); and to lecture at the Naval War College.
During the period 1884 until his death in 1914, Admiral Mahan studied and wrote on Naval historical and biographical subjects. His works have had tremendous influence all over the world, especially those directly concerning seapower, and have been translated into many different languages.
While abroad as Commanding Officer of the USS Chicago in 1894, he was awarded honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Later Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth and McGill similarly honored him. The Royal United Service Institute awarded him its Chesney Gold Medal in recognition of his literary work bearing on the welfare of the British Empire, in 1900; and in 1902 he was made President of the American Historical Society.
A selected list of his works follows in chronological order:
The Gulf and Inland Waters. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1883.
The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1890.
1891 Plans of Operations in Case of War with Great Britain. With Comments by Captain Charles H. Davis, USN. Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 1890.
The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1892.
Admiral Farragut. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1892.
The Life of Nelson: The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1897.
The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1897.
Lessons of the War with Spain and Other Articles. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1899.
The War in South Africa. New York: P. F. Collier and Son, 1900.
The Problem of Asia and Its Effect Upon International Policies. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1900.
Types of Naval Officers Drawn from the History of the British Navy. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1900.
The Battle of Trafalgar. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1901.
Retrospect and Prospect: Studies in International Relations, Naval and Political. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1902.
Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1905.
Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1906.
Some Neglected Aspects of War. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1907.
From Sail to Steam: Recollections of Naval Life. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1907.
Naval Administration and Warfare. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1908.
The Harvest Within: Thoughts on the Life of a Christian. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1909.
The Interest of America in International Conditions. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1910.
Naval Strategy Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land: Lectures Delivered at U.S. Naval War College, Newport, R.I., Between the Years 1887 and 1911. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1911.
Armaments and Arbitration, or the Place of Force in the International Relations of States. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912.
The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1913.
Letters of Alfred Thayer Mahan to Samuel A'Court Ashe (1858-59). Edited by Rosa Pendleton Chiles. Durham, NC: Duke University, 1931.
Mahan on Naval Warfare: Selections from the Writing of Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan, edited by Allan Westcott. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1941.
Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Edited by Robert Seager II and Doris D. Maguire. 3 vols. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1975.
The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1805. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.
Naval Strategy. Washington, DC: US Marine Corps, 1991. [Lectures given by A.T. Mahan at the Naval War College between 1887 and 1911.]
Essays by Mahan:
"Naval Education," US Naval Institute Proceedings 5 (April 1879): 345-76.
"The Necessity and Objects of a Naval War College: Address by Captain A.T. Mahan at the Opening of the Fourth Annual Session of the US Naval War College, August 6, 1888," US Naval Institute Proceedings 14, no. 4 (1888) 621-39.
"Hawaii and Our Future Sea-power," The Forum 15 (March 1893): 1-11.
"Lessons From the Yalu Fight," Century Magazine 50 (August 1895): 629-32.
"The Navy as a Career," The Forum 20 (November 1895): 277-83.
"The Engineer in Naval Warfare," North American Review 163 (December 1896): 648-54.
"John Paul Jones in the Revolution," Scribner's Monthly Magazine 24 (July-August 1898): 22-36, 204-19.
"The War on the Sea and Its Lessons," McClure's Magazine (December 1898): 110-117.
"The War on the Sea and Its Lessons," McClure's Magazine (April 1899): 231-240.
"The Philippines and the Future," The Independent 52 (March 1900): 697-98.
"The Boer Republic and the Monroe Doctrine," The Independent 52 (May 1900): 1101-3.
"Nelson at Naples," English Historical Review 15 (October 1900): 699-727.
"The Apparent Decadence of the Church's Influence," The Churchman (1903).
"Torpedo Craft Versus Battleships," Collier's Weekly (May 1904).
"Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea," US Naval Institute Proceedings 32, no. 2 (June 1906): pages 447-71.
"The Submarine and Its Enemies," Collier's Weekly (April 1907).
"Nelson in the Battle of the Nile," Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (January 1907): pages 435-47.
"Germany's Naval Ambitions," Collier's Weekly 43 (April 1909): 12-13.
"Britain and the German Navy," Daily Mail (July 4, 1910).
"The Battleship of All Big Guns," World's Work 21 (January 1911): 13898-13902.
"Importance of Command of the Sea," Scientific American 105 (December 1911): 512.
"Twentieth Century Christianity," North American Review 199 (April 1914): 589-98.
"Extracts from Mahan's Naval Strategy," US Naval Institute Proceedings 41, no. 1 (January/February 1915): 155-65.
Selected topics on Mahan:
Adams, John A. If Mahan Ran the Great Pacific War: An Analysis of World War II Naval Strategy. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008.
Alger, John I. The Quest for Victory: The History of the Principles of War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Anderson, Gary. Beyond Mahan: A Proposal for a U.S. Naval Strategy in the Twenty-First Century. Newport, RI: Naval War College, Center for Naval Warfare Studies, 1993.
Asada, Sadao. From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006.
Badham, Francis Pritchett. Nelson at Naples: A Journal for June 10-30, 1799; Refuting Recent Misstatements of Captain Mahan and Professor J. K. Laughton. London: D. Nutt, 1900.
Berge, William Henry. The Impulse for Expansion: John W. Burgess, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Theodore Roosevelt, Josiah Strong and the Development of a Rationale. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University, 1969. [Microform]
Bowling, Roland Alfred. The Negative Influence of Mahan on the Protection of Shipping in Wartime: The Convoy Controversy in the Twentieth Century. Orono, ME: University of Maine at Orono, 1980.
Bradford, James C., Ed. Admirals of the New Steel Navy: Makers of the American Naval Tradition, 1880-1930. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990.
Brooks, Edward Howard. The National Defense Policy of the Wilson Administration, 1913-1917. Menlo Park, CA: Stanford University, 1950.
Costello, Daniel Joseph. Planning for War: A History of the General Board of the Navy, 1900-1914. Medford, MA: Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, 1968.
Coutris, George W. Emergence of the New American Navy; 1880-1896. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, 1966.
Ellicott, John Morris. Three Navy Cranks and What They Turned. Annapolis, MD: US Naval Institute, 1924.
Gilliam, Bates McCluer. The World of Captain Mahan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1961. [Microform]
Greene, Robert Benjamin. Wisdom and Prudence: The Teachings of Admiral A. T. Mahan. Claremont, CA: Claremont Graduate School, 1979.
Hattendorf, John B. A Bibliography of the Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1986.
________. Register of the Papers of Alfred T. Mahan. Newport, RI: Naval Historical Collection, Naval War College, 1987.
Holmes, James R. Chinese Naval Strategy in the 21st Century: The Turn to Mahan. New York: Routledge, 2008.
James, Jonathan T. Countering Naval Guerrilla Warfare: Are Convoys Obsolete? Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies, 1991.
Karsten, Peter Daggett. The Naval Aristocracy: U.S. Naval Officers from the 1840's to the 1920's: Mahan's Messmates. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1968.
________. The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism. New York: Free Press, 1972.
Kirkham, George Karkeek. The Books and Articles of Rear Admiral A. T. Mahan, U.S.N.: General index. New York: Private printing at the Ballou Press, 1929.
Knight, Austin Melvin, and William Dilworth Puleston. History of the United States Naval War College. Newport, RI: US Naval War College, 1916.
Lambert, Andrew D. The Foundations of Naval History: John Knox Laughton, the Royal Navy and the Historical Profession. London: Chatham Publishers, 1998.
Levy, Morris. Alfred Thayer Mahan and United States Foreign Policy. New York: New York University, 1965.
Livezey, William Edmund. Mahan on Sea Power. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947.
Naval War College (U.S.) The United States Naval War College: A Staff Study of Its Historical Background, Mission and Educational Philosophy, Principles and Concepts, From Which the Second Year of the Course in Naval Warfare Was Derived. Naval War College. Newport, RI: United States Naval War College, 1954. [Microform]
Naval War College (U.S.) The Influence of History On Mahan: The Proceedings of a Conference Marking the Centenary of Alfred Thayer Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. Edited by John B. Hattendorf with John C. Benigno. U.S. Naval War College historical monograph series, no. 9. Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 1991.
Nelson, Jean Ware. The Sea Power Doctrine of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. Menlo Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute, 1960.
________. Summary and Analysis of the Writings of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. Menlo Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute, 1960.
________. Comparison of the Military Theories of Clausewitz, Mahan, and Douhet. Menlo, Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute, 1961.
Paret, Peter, Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert, Eds. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.
Puleston, William Dilworth. Mahan: The Life and Work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1939.
________. Mahan: The Life and Work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1946.
Rasmussen, John Peter. The American Imperialist Elite: A Study in the Concept of National Efficiency. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 1962.
Rosinski, Herbert. Commentaire de Mahan: Suivi de Textes de Mahan. Paris: ISC, Institut de Stratégie Comparée: Economica, 1996.
Russell, William Henry. Mahan. Annapolis, MD: Academic Fellowship, 1963.
Schluter, Randall Craig. Looking Outward for America: An Ideological Criticism of the Rhetoric of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, USN, in American Magazines of the Eighteen-nineties. Iowa City, IO: University of Iowa, 1995.
Seager, Robert. Alfred Thayer Mahan: The Man and His Letters. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1977.
Smith, Edward Allen. Naval Confrontation: The Intersuperpower Use of Naval Suasion in Times of Crisis. Washington, DC: American University, 1979.
Steepee, Jonathan L. The Unity of Purpose in Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan's Proposals for American Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: New School for Social Research, 1977.
Sumida, Jon Tetsuro. Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command: The Classic Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan Reconsidered. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Sweetman, Jack. The U.S. Naval Academy: An Illustrated History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979.
Taylor, Charles Carlisle. The Life of Admiral Mahan, Naval Philosopher, Rear Admiral United States Navy. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1920.
Till, Geoffrey. Maritime Strategy and the Nuclear Age. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.
Turk, Richard W. The Ambiguous Relationship: Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.
United States. Department of the Navy. Navy Department Library. Clippings, Periodical Articles By and About Alfred Thayer Mahan, 1895-1918. Washington, DC: Navy Department Library 195-?
West, Richard S. Admirals of American Empire: The Combined Story of George Dewey, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Winfield Scott Schley and William Thomas Sampson. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948.
Historical manuscripts in the Navy Department Library:
Autograph letter signed, dated 31 May 1860 from Midshipman Mahan to Captain Goldsborough aboard USS Congress relating to disobedience of two sailors.
Autograph letter signed, dated 29 May 1898 from Washington, DC about his philosophy on the United States' position in the world.
Autograph letter signed, dated 22 December 1901 to Mr. Hamilton Holt about Park Benjamin's book review "A Casuistry in Naval Ethics."
Autograph letter signed, dated 27 December 1901 to Mr. Hamilton Holt about misrepresented facts in Park Benjamin's book review in The Independent.
Typed letter signed, dated 3 January 1902 to Mr. Hamilton Holt in regards to publishing a confidential rermark in The Independent.
Autograph letter signed, dated 6 January 1902, from New York City to Hamilton Holt marked "confidential" in regards to correspondence written as a consequence of Park Benjamin's book review.
Autograph letter signed, dated 27 December 1904 to President Theodore Roosevelt relating to the Second Hague Convention and exception from capture at sea of private property.
Autograph letter signed, dated 2 March 1908 to Mr. William H. Rideing, Esq., regarding editorial matters.
Autograph letter signed, dated 13 April 1908 to James C. Young, Esq., asking if a book was sent to his New York address.
Autograph letter signed, dated 7 February 1914 to Mr. William H. Rideing, Esq. a proposal to write an article relating to the proposed building of a statue of DeGrasse by the Sons of the American Revolution.
For transcriptions of these letters, see Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Edited by Robert Seager II and Doris D. Maguire. 3 vols. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1975.
Ships named in honor of Admiral Mahan.
USS Mahan Destroyer No. 102
USS Mahan DD-364
USS Mahan DLG-11