The US Becomes a World Power

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Time Line

1875 Hawaiian sugar exempted from U.S. tariffs
1880s French begin to dig Panama Canal
1890 McKinley Tariff
1893 Queen Liliuokalani abdicates

United States annexes Hawaii

Battleship Maine explodes off Cuba

Spanish-American War


Open Door Policy

United States acquires control over Samoa

1900 Boxer Rebellion

Philippine Government Act

Platt Amendment

1903 Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty
1905 Roosevelt brokers peace treaty between Russia and Japan
1914 Panama Canal completed
1916 Jones Act of 1916
1917 Jones Act of 1917


The United States Becomes a World Power

Although the United States had acquired an empire, it was one continuous tract of land (plus the Alaska territory). Unlike the great European powers, the United States had not traveled the world, acquiring faraway colonies. This changed as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth. The United States had several motives for acquiring colonies. The first was to gain trade partners on favorable terms. The second was to establish naval bases. The third was simply to prove to the world that it was a great power.

The United States produced all the wheat and manufactured goods its people needed, but it did not have the right climate to produce other necessities, such as coffee, sugar, and rubber. Colonies could provide these raw materials; they would also serve as a market for surplus wheat and manufactured goods. When a nation controls a colony, that nation can dictate the terms of trade—it can purchase colonial raw materials at low prices and sell its own goods to the colonists at high prices.

The United States acquired a highly desirable colony in the central Pacific Ocean—the sugar-producing Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii became a U.S. territory and served as both a trading partner and a strategically important naval base. As a result of the Spanish-American War, the United States acquired the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. It also made Cuba a protectorate.

In 1903, the United States took control of a narrow slice of the Isthmus of Panama, where a canal that connected the Pacific and Atlantic oceans was under construction. The United States hired Caribbean workers to complete the job, and the Panama Canal opened with great fanfare in 1914. This period also saw the beginning of the tendency of the United States to be “the police- man of the world” with its continual uninvited interference in the affairs of Latin American nations.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at: The US Becomes a World Power Practice Test

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