This article quantitatively analyzes American naval-force structure from 1869 to 1899. It makes four arguments: first, that operational capabilities lagged behind political decisions by many years; second, that antiquated ships imposed a significant financial burden on the U.S. Navy; third, that successful fleet operations required a technologically compatible force structure; and finally, that the United States was ill-prepared to fight a major maritime war until about 1897. U.S. naval power during the Spanish-American War was thus both novel and fragile, and might have failed had it been put to the test earlier. The article also compares American naval recapitalization to other capital-intensive industries and to earlier periods in naval histor! y, such as the galley era and the age of sail, and concludes with potential lessons for contemporary policymakers and military leaders.