When did the US become a world power?

What this thread is NOT asking: I know when the US emerged on the stage as a world power; to be imprecise, lets say between 1900 and 1915.

What I am asking: At what time was the U.S. capable of being a world power?

My WAG: I think that by 1865, the U.S. could have been a world power. I come to this conclusion by asking, "Could the U.S. have gone toe to toe with any of the other world powers and potentially have won? I say that the answer to this question is yes. Now I will grant that politically, the U.S. probably was not ready to have a large standing national army and navy like France, England, or Russia did or the will to go adventuring abroad. But, in terms of capabilities, I think that the U.S. could have. By 1865, the northeast of the U.S. had become as industrially developed (or pretty close) to the European powers, in fact much of the innovation in weapons technology was happening in America. I don’t know the population numbers, but based on size alone, I think that the U.S. probably compared favorably to Europe. In terms of naval technology, the U.S. still had a huge merchant fleet, ship building industry, and was on the forefront of naval innovation; so I’m assuming they could have scaled up their navy (although maybe not to England levels).

I’m curious to hear what everyone else thinks. I know obviously the Civil War and its after affects come into play here, but theoretically had the U.S. fought one of the other world powers circa 1865, I see no reason why it wouldn’t have been able to more than hold its own.

I think the Monroe Doctrine was a declaration of world power status. So, 1823.

I’d define the Monroe Doctrine as a decleration of *regional * power, pretty much by definition. If anything, the launch of the Great White Fleet in 1907 was America’s first real decleration of itself as a global power.

I don’t even know about that. One of our first conflicts was against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean - and if that isn’t projecting power overseas, then that term has little meaning.

So I’d trace our world power status to the Jefferson administration.

On the flip side though, to be a world power you have to be able to fight and beat other world powers. Except for fighting at home (and the U.S. didn’t even do that well when it fought what was essential England’s 7th string army in the War of 1812), the U.S. would have gotten completely trashed by any of the other major powers during that time period.

I’d step back a few years to the Spanish-American War in 1898 when we decided that we wanted control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines. We basically stepped onto the world stage by stripping a former world power of most of it’s remaining colonies.

The U.S. wasn’t capable of being a real world power until they started building a strong navy as advocated by Alfred Thayer Mahan in The Influence of Seapower Upon History,1660-1783 published around 1890 --I think–.

Without a strong navy the United States could not be a true world power. I do think that following the Civil War the United States could arguably have had the most powerful and modern army in the world at that time. Good luck getting them farther than Canada or Mexico though.


Perhaps years before that - the opening of Japan to foreign trade was accomplished by a flotilla of U.S. Navy warships led by Commodore Perry.

I don’t think there is a really definitive answer to this question.

During the Civil War the Union army was the most powerful army in the entire world. It would have trashed any European army it faced. The only trouble is, there was no possible way the Union army would face a European army, because there was no possible way for the Union army to fight in Europe, and there was no possible way for a European army to fight in America. The only possible such conflict would be a fight between the USA and Britain in Canada, and in such a conflict the post-Civil War US army would walk all over the British.

But such a war was not fought, because no one wanted such a war. After the Civil War ended the US was concerned with annexing the west, not the north. There was plenty of room to expand that didn’t involve a war with Britain, and those Civil War veterans headed west to fight the Indians rather than north to fight British Canada.

So the question is really a naval power/power projection question.

The US successfully transported and offloaded 12000 men by sea into Veracruz, Mexico, in 1848… not too shabby. Sending them to Europe might have been a little tougher, though.

Does anyone know if these men came from Texas, or some other part of the US? (If they shipped from Boston/New York, then the distances involved would have been comparable to sending them to Europe.)

Yeah, this kind of gets at the heart of my question. I wonder just how powerful the U.S. navy circa 1865 was. There is an argument to be made that they had the largest number of, and most experience with ironclads. But than again, I think most of their ironclads were designed for coastal/river combat. I think that most of the union blockade was carried out with old fashioned wooden sail ships or sail steam hybrids. I doubt the U.S. navy would be in the same league as England as an effective world wide force for another 25 years or so.

To change things up slightly, given the thrashing the U.S. gave Mexico a decade prior to the Civil War, was it already a world power then? Certainly it was the premier power in the hemisphere, but that is as much a testament to the ramshackle nature of the rest of the hemisphere as anything else. I wonder how it would have performed against a country that had its shit together.

If we’re talking could, then the U.S. could have matched England in ships well before the Civil War, or during it, or after. It didn’t because it had no reason to.

This would be my initial breakpoint too, although the United States did not really exercise its status as a world power, i.e. predominately influencing the actions of other nations until leading up to WWII and Lend-Lease program. Following WWII, the rebuilding of Europe under the Marshall Plan, the division of Germany with the west being under NATO (and thus, predominately American and British) control, and American wartime expansion into the Pacific and Asia along with the incipient collapse of European colonialism in Asia and the Middle East led to a substantial permanent and predominate American influence in essentially all continents except for Africa. The United States and the U.S.S.R. emerged as industrial and military superpowers in the void left by the embattled and devastated European colonial powers, post-imperial Japan, and post-revolutionary China.


This gets my vote. Fighting a war or action in one place (like the Barbary pirates) does not a world power make. Taking on another power anywhere and everywhere does.

Does it have to be in a military sense? I think our true strength came through innovation. The industrial revolution also had an indirect (direct?) hand in making us a world power. I’m not a big history or military buff, particularly, but it seems you can’t achieve world power status simply by winning wars. There are lots of things in the mix.

It would need an ally in Europe as a base, but then I doubt we could have projected power in Europe in WW II without England as a base either. So I’d put the time as the Civil War.

As for the Monroe Doctrine, that only worked because a real world power, the British, agreed, and wanted to issue a bilateral statement. J Q Adams, the real author, made it unilateral, but I suspect it would have little force without de facto British backing. Cite

Is military power the only criterion we are using in this thread? I doubt many people would say that Saudi Arabia is not a world power, but its military is not capable of launching an intercontinental war with another world power.

While it is true that the Spanish-American war marked the emergence of the USA as a world power, it is incorrect to say that the US had a world-class military. The navy was OK-but nowhere near that of GB. The US Army was a complete disaster-although staffed by competent officers, we hade Civil-war era weapons! Our soldiers were using black powder rifles against Spanish troops aremed with rapid-fire, smokeless cartidge Mauser rifles. It was only by luck 9and Spanish incompetency) that we "won’ the war in Cuba.Most of our casualties were from yellow fever and eating spoiled canned meat (the meat was canned in 1865!)

Saudi Arabia is not a world power. It is, at best, a regional power. Sure, the Saudi government has a lot of spare cash compared to most third world shitholes, but it’s a third world shithole with a lot of spare cash, not a world power.

I don’t think anybody’s military was perfect…

The US pre-dreadnought designs were comparable to European designs of the time. US domestic production of armor plate was initially a bottleneck. The small size of the fleet in 1895 was due to political decisions, not due to capability.

The wiki entries for the Winchester model 1894 lever action rifle ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Model_1894 ) and, more especially, the Springfield 1892 bolt action rifle ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springfield_Model_1892-99 ) seem to indicate that these weapons were used in that time frame. (I assume the lever action rifle was used with mounted troops.)

Most casualties from all wars of the period include huge numbers of troops suffering from a variety of problems, like “trench foot”. Nothing makes it a USA only problem.