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Amerigo Vespucci

America is named after Amerigo Vespucci 1, the Italian explorer who set forth the then revolutionary concept that the lands that Christopher Columbus sailed to in 1492 were part of a separate continent. Vespucci (March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512) was an Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer. He was born in the Republic of Florence and became a naturalized citizen of the Crown of Castile in 1505. Like Columbus, Vespucci traveled to the New World (first in 1499 and again in 1502). Unlike Columbus, Vespucci wrote about it. Vespucci’s accounts of his travels were published in 1502 and 1504 and were widely read in Europe. Columbus was also hindered because he thought he had discovered another route to Asia, not realizing America was a whole new continent. Vespucci, however, realized that America was not contiguous with Asia. He was also the first to call it the New World, or Novus Mundus in Latin, in his books It would become “the Americas”, a name derived from Americus, the Latin version of Vespucci’s first name.

Universalis Cosmographia, Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map

A map created in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller was the first to depict this new continent with the name “America,” a Latinized version of “Amerigo.” With the discovery of this “New World,” maps were being redrawn all the time. No one really knew what land was where or how big it was. Because of this confusion, maps from the 1500s are incredibly inaccurate and contradictory. (They also often feature drawings of mythical sea creatures.) In 1507, a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemüller was drawing a map of the world–a very serious map. He called it the Universalis Cosmographia, or Universal Cosmography. Comprised of 12 wooden panels. Each panel was 18 by 24.5 inches in size. 2 Together the panels were eight feet wide and four-and-a-half feet tall. He based his drawings of the New World on Vespucci’s published travelogues. All countries were seen as feminine (like her lady Liberty today), so Waldseemüller used a feminine Latinized of Amerigo to name the new continents “America.” Cartographers tended to copy one another’s choices, so there was no mention of Columbus.

Notes:

  1. https://www.loc.gov/wiseguide/aug03/america.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldseem%C3%BCller_map
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