On February 15, 1898, an explosion of unknown origin sank the battleship U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor, killing 266 of the 354 crew members. The sinking of the Maine incited United States’ passions against Spain, eventually leading to a naval blockade of Cuba and a declaration of war. Ostensibly on a friendly visit, the Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after riots broke out in Havana in January. An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry reported on March 28 that the ship, one of the first American battleships and built at a cost of more than two million dollars, had been blown up by a mine without laying blame on any person or nation in particular, but public opinion in the United States blamed the Spanish military occupying Cuba anyway. Subsequent diplomatic communications failed to resolve the matter, leading to the start of the Spanish-American War by the end of April. The Spanish-American War is notable as the first U.S. war documented by the motion picture camera. The Edison Manufacturing Company, for example, sent cameraman William Paley to Key West, Florida, where he filmed Burial of the “Maine” Victims on March 27, 1898. In late March he also filmed the Wreck of the Battleship “Maine” in the Havana harbor, and in late April and early May of that year he filmed, in Florida, military preparations for the war. A special “War Extra,” issued on May 20, 1898, as a supplement to the Edison Manufacturing Company catalog, promised that these motion pictures “would be sure to satisfy the craving of the general public for absolutely true and accurate details regarding the movements of the United States Army getting ready for the invasion of Cuba.”
- In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Maine, the Library of Congress released the American Memory collection The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures. For an overview of the films in this collection, with essays offering an historical context, view the special presentation The Motion Picture Camera Goes to War. In addition, browse the Topical Title List of motion pictures to follow the progression of the war.
- A Guide to the Spanish-American War links to a wide variety of digital materials relating to the Spanish-American War available on the Library’s Web site as well as to external sites. The guide also includes a selected bibliography.
- Learn more about the war by viewing The World of 1898, a presentation of the Library of Congress Hispanic Division. For additional war images, see the Today in History features on the arrival of the first U.S. Marines at Guantánamo Bay on June 10, 1898, the Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1, and the October 18 raising of the U.S. flag in Puerto Rico.
- To find additional images of the ill-fated battleship and its crew, search on Maine Battleship in Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 and Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991. This search will retrieve such artifacts as the panoramic photograph of the thirteenth anniversary of the sinking of the Maine. For more photographs, search on Spanish American War, 1898 in Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920.