Amerigo Vespucci

Italian Sailor, Merchant & Explorer

Born: c.1454

Died: 1512

Vespucci’s first connection to exploration was as a supplier of goods to Columbus. He became chief navigator for the Medici Bank, making maps of the lands discovered by Christopher Columbus and other explorers.

During his lifetime, Vespucci openly claimed to have made four voyages to the West, although most scholars dispute this claim. Historians do agree, however, that on the expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda in 1499-1500, Vespucci did explore a large section of the northern coast of South America. During a second trip, sponsored by Portugal, he explored much of the coast of Brazil.

An important historical point to recognize is that Vespucci’s report of his voyages, which he entitled ‘Mundus Novus’ (“New World”), predates his first voyage. He may have created this act of fraud in an attempt to prove that it was he, and not Columbus, who first reached the mainland of North America. His travel report became wildly popular in Europe for it’s sensationalist descriptions of the people and wildlife of the New World. His writings showed that he was one of the first to realize that the explorers had found a new continent, and not just an un-explored section of Asia.

Mondus Novus attracted the interest of cartographer Martin Waldseemuller, who published a new map incorporating many of Vespucci’s features and theories. When the map was published in 1507, Waldseemuller named the southern part of the continent “America,” a Latinized version of “Amerigo.” Eventually, this name was given to both North and South America.

Vespucci’s later years were spent as Chief Pilot for Spain.

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