Amerigo Vespucci was born in 1454 to a wealthy and prominent family in Florence, Italy. Amerigo was an ardent student who enjoyed reading and collecting scholarly items such as books, maps and journals. He studied under Michelangelo and was rumored to be an accomplished artist.
The Early Years
As an educated young man, Vespucci began working for local bankers and financiers. In 1492, he was sent to Spain to manage his employer’s banking and investment interests. While in Spain, Vespucci was drawn to the excitement surrounding the growing interest in exploration. The recent voyage of Columbus and others generated much interest in the nation as people wondered how man would reach the fabled Indies via a westward direction.
Exploring The New World
Vespucci began working on ships and learning all that he could about navigation and exploration. He worked as the ship’s navigator on his first voyage to the newly discovered New World. His first expedition reached the mouth of the Amazon River in what is now known as Brazil in South America. While further exploring the coast of South America, he learned to calculate how far west he had traveled by observing the conjunction of the Moon and the planet Mars.
On subsequent voyages to the New World, Vespucci further explored the South American coast, traveling far south to within 400 miles of the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego. He became the first explorer to recognize and identify the New World as a separate continent and not part of East Asia, contrary to what many, including Columbus had thought.
Amerigo Vespucci The Writer
A prolific writer, Vespucci wrote letters and stories to friends in Spain and Europe describing the many wonderful new places that he explored and the fascinating people that he met. Vespucci described many details about the varied types of land, the vegetation and the culture and habits of the indigenous people that he encountered. His detailed descriptions of the sexual, marriage and childbirth habits of the native peoples became very popular with readers in Europe. His stories and letters were published in many languages in Europe and quickly became best selling publications. Vespucci became more famous than Columbus as the preeminent explorer of the New World.
A New World Map
During this time, a German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemuller, was working on a contemporary world map. Waldseemuller was an accomplished scholar and had wanted to be recognized as the person who designed the most accurate map available in a time of constant change and new discoveries.
America is Born
Waldseemuller designed his world map based on the writings of the ancient Greek scholar Ptolemy. based on the writings of Amerigo Vespucci, Waldseemuller became convinced, as did many scholars at the time, that the New World was indeed comprised of new continents. He designed and created a wood block world map called Carta Mariana (or Cosmographiae introductio) that contained the first ever drawing of a new continent to the West which he named America in honor of Amerigo Vespucci. Thousands of maps were printed and distributed across Europe. People everywhere began to call the New World, America.