Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840–1914) was born in West Point, New York, and was the son of a professor of civil and military engineering at the U.S. Military Academy. Despite his proximity to the military academy, it was the Navy that transfixed the young Mahan. After attending Columbia College in New York City, he was recommended for an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland by Jefferson Davis.
Mahan enjoyed a 40-year career in the U.S. Navy that would see his involvement in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, but those involvements paled in comparison to his involvements in the lecture halls of naval academies and his global influence on the view of sea power.
His views were influenced by the naval dominance of the British Empire; but he, along with other geopolitical commentators, believed the Empire was on the decline. For Mahan, America was the next imperial power that should invest in its naval capabilities. These views were subscribed to by leading politicians of the early 20th century, including Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1906, 16 years after his first and most influential work, he retired from the Navy to spend the next eight years of his life dedicated to studying naval history, as well as modern global maritime affairs. Before his retirement, he was awarded honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, and McGill. The Royal United Services Institute honored him with the Chesney Gold Medal for his scholarship on the British Empire, and in 1902, he was elected president of the American Historical Association.
In honor of Mahan, and as a nod to his strategic thinking and his influence on modern naval affairs, the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, where he once taught, established the Alfred Thayer Mahan Professor of Grand Strategy in the Strategy and Policy Department.