Book Review: Progressives in Navy Blue: Maritime Strategy, American Empire, and the Transformation of U.S. Naval Identity, 1873-1898


by Scott Mobley

Annaoplis: Naval Institute Press, 2018. Pp. xii, 412. Illus., tables, figures, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 9781682471937

The Navy and the Rise of the “American Empire”

Dr. Mobley, a former surface warrior and ship’s captain examines how the U.S. Navy evolved during the “Progressive Era”, from an institutional culture that stressed seamanship and the primary mission of protecting American interests abroad to one of the “warrior-engineer” in the service of the “American empire”.

The period from the end of the Civil War to the eve of twentieth century – known as both the “Gilded Age” and “Progressive Era” – was a time of rapid technological innovation and uncertainty as to the shape of the future, as these changes sparked changes in American society, culture, and politics. The Navy’s transition from a small seagoing constabulary to a major sea power was painful, as “progressives” and “traditionalists” clashed in bureaucratic battles over the purpose of the naval service, the types of ships required, the best ways to educate officers, and more.

Perhaps the most important factors in this transition were the formation of the “United States Naval Institute” in 1873, a private association of naval officers and interested citizens formed to further the study of sea power, and the opening of the Naval War College in 1884, essentially a graduate institution for the study of naval strategy and operations, the first such in the world, with a curriculum stressing history and innovative thinking. These helped professionalize the naval service and developed a coherent naval policy and strategy, demonstrated by the successful outcome of the war with Spain.

In his treatment of theses these developments, Mobley gives us profiles of many officers and a few politicians, who, aside from Alfred Thayer Mahan, are all virtually unknown save by the specialist.

Progressives in Navy Blue, a volume in the Naval Institute Press series “Studies in Naval History and Sea Power”, is an excellent read for anyone interested in U.S. naval history.


Note: Progressives in Navy Blue is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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