Alfred Thayer Mahan Biography

(Naval Officer)

Birthday: September 27, 1840 (Libra)

Born In: West Point, New York, United States

Alfred Thayer Mahan was a United States naval officer, who became famous as an eminent naval historian and strategist. Born to a noted military theorist, he entered US Naval Academy against his father’s wishes. Although he saw action during the American Civil War and actively served the US Navy for 40 years, his skill as a seaman was not particularly exemplary. Indeed, most ships under his command were involved in collisions. Contrarily, he was a great strategist and author, publishing his first book, ‘The Gulf and Inland Waters’ around the age of 43. Two years later, he was invited to join the newly founded Naval War College as a professor, publishing his college lectures as ‘The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783’ at fifty. Six years later, he voluntarily retired to concentrate on writing. Today, he is known as one of the most influential American authors of the 19th century.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 74


Spouse/Ex-: Ellen Lyle Evans (m. 1872)

father: Dennis Hart Mahan

mother: Mary Helena Mahan

Born Country: United States

Military Leaders American Men

Died on: December 1, 1914

place of death: Washington, D.C., United States

Cause of Death: Heart Failure

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: Columbia College, Saint James School, United States Naval Academy

Childhood & Early Life
Alfred Thayer Mahan was born on September 27, 1840 at West Point, New York. His father, Dennis Hart Mahan, was a military theorist and civil engineer. At the time of Alfred’s birth, he was a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
His mother’s name was Mary Helena Okill Mahan. Born one of his parents five children, he had at least two surviving brothers, Capt. Frederick A. Mahan and Dennis Hart Mahan, Jr.
In 1856, Alfred Thayer Mahan graduated from Saint James School in Maryland and entered Columbia College, New York. While studying there, he met future president, Jefferson Davis, who encouraged him to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
On September 30, 1856, against his father’s advice, he entered US Naval Academy as acting Midshipman and graduated from there, second in his class, on June 9, 1859. For the next two years, he served as a Midshipman on the USS Congress, which was stationed at Callao, Peru.
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Early Career
On August 31, 1861, Alfred Thayer Mahan was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and assigned to USS James Adger. By then the American Civil War had set off and within 10 days, he was reassigned to USS Pocahontas, a screw gunboat belonging to the South American Blockading Squadron.
In 1861, he was transferred to the Naval Academy, at that time located at NewPort, Rhode Island, where he was assigned to teach seamanship. However, he was not very successful in that and returned to shipping duty as First lieutenant on the USS Macedonian in 1863.
On June 7, 1865, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and assigned to "double-ender" steam gunboat USS Mucoota.
For the next 20 years, he remained active both on sea and on land. He became commander in 1872 and Captain in 1885.
Alfred Thayer Mahan served at Washington Navy Yard in 1866, at New York Navy Yard in 1870-77, at Boston Navy Yard in 1875-76, at Naval Academy in 1877-80 and again at New York Navy Yard in 1880-83. In between, he was on sea duty, commanding USS Wachusett of South Pacific Squadron in 1883-1885.
Retirement & Later Life
On November 17, 1896, Alfred Thayer Mahan voluntarily retired from active service. However, he remained attached to the US Navy, being engaged in special duties till 1912, sitting on the Naval War Board in 1898, attending Peace Conference in The Hague as US Naval Delegate in 1899.
After his retirement, he began to write prolifically, publishing works like ‘The Life of Nelson’ (1897), ‘Lessons of the War with Spain.’ (1899), ‘Problems of Asia’ (1900), ‘Retrospect and Prospect’ (1902). In 1905, he published another important work, ‘Sea Power in its Relations to the War of 1812’ (2 Vol.)
On November 17, 1906, he was made a Rear Admiral, along with other retired captains who had served during the American Civil War, by a Congressional Act. Meanwhile, he continued to write and published ‘Naval Administration and Warfare’ in 1908.
His other works include ‘The Harvest Within’ (1909), ‘The Interest of America in International Conditions’ (1910), ‘Armaments and Arbitration’ (1912) and ‘Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence’ (1913). That apart, he also wrote many biographical sketches and interpretative articles on contemporary events.
Major Works
Alfred Thayer Mahan is best known for his 1890 book, 'The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783'. Considered the most influential book in naval strategy, it discusses necessary factors required for achieving naval supremacy. The policies discussed therein were quickly adopted by most nations and the book remains equally relevant to this day.
Awards & Achievements
Alfred Thayer Mahan received Civil War Campaign Medal for his service in the American Civil war and Spanish Campaign Medal for his contribution in the Spanish-American War.
Family & Personal Life
In June 1872, Alfred Thayer Mahan married Ellen Lyle Evans. They had three surviving children; two daughters named Helen Evans Mahan and Ellen Kuhn Mahan; and a son named Lyle Evans Mahan.
Alfred Thayer Mahan died of heart failure on December 1, 1914, in Washington, at the age of 74.
In recognition of his service, four US naval ships have been named after him. Among them, USS Mahan (DD-102/DM-7) was commissioned in 1918, USS Mahan (DD-364) in 1936, USS Mahan (DLG-11/DDG-42) in 1975 and USS Mahan (DDG-7) in 1998.
A US. Naval Sea Cadet Corps unit in Albany has been named in his honor and so have Mahan Hall in United States Naval Academy and Naval War College. Mahan Road in now disestablished Naval Ordnance Laboratory also bears his legacy.

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