Four Navy ships have borne the title USS Maine, in keeping with the Navy's tendency to re-use the names of ships as they are decommissioned. The most famous ship to bear the name was the USS Maine (ACR-1), the first ship to carry the name. The Battleship Maine, as this ship was also known, was one of the first modern battleships created by the United States Navy, and it was sunk in a mysterious explosion in the Havana Harbor in 1898.
The original USS Maine was the first Navy ship to be named for the state of Maine, and it was often used as an ambassador of new Navy technology, leading parades of ships and appearing at ceremonial events as a show of power. In January, 1898, the Battleship Maine was sent to Cuba, ostensibly as a friendly gesture. In fact, the ship was there to protect the interests of Americans in Cuba, as there was growing unease between the United States and Spain.
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On 17 February 1898, the ship was ripped apart by a large explosion, killing 266 men. There are two possible explanations for the explosion: a Spanish sea mine, or a fire which may have started spontaneously in the coal bunkers and then spread to the ammunition magazines. Such fires were very common in the days of coal power. Critics of Spain, however, looked no further than the first explanation, and sentiment in the United States was quickly whipped up over the USS Maine's fate.
Several major papers which were locked in a rivalry plastered the USS Maine across their headlines, along with catchy lines like “Remember the Maine, to [heck] with Spain!” The “yellow journalism” of the period tended to be sensational and often exaggerated, and the USS Maine provided an ideal catalyst for news mongers hungry to sell papers. As it turned out, the USS Maine also turned out to play a major role in the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the United States and Spain, and it contributed indirectly to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.
Several memorials to the Maine and the victims of the explosion can be found at sites in New York City and Arlington National Cemetery, among others. Some of these memorials include pieces of the ship which were retrieved by divers and technicians when the ship was raised in 1910.
In 1901, the USS Maine (BB-10) was commissioned. This ship sailed until 1923, when it was broken down for scrap. The construction of another USS Maine (BB-69) was authorized and later canceled in 1943. The latest USS Maine (SSBN-741) is a nuclear submarine which was launched in 1994.