Amerigo Vespucci Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Crystal Ladwig
Many of us have been taught that Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America, right? Then why are Americans called 'Americans'? Read on to find out about a different explorer who had two continents named after him.

Amerigo Vespucci

Most of us learned that America was discovered by Christopher Columbus. But North and South America were actually named after a different explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. The interesting thing is that many people now think Vespucci received that honor mistakenly!

Early Life

Amerigo Vespucci was born in about 1451 in Florence, Italy. His parents were able to provide him with a good education and were friends with Italy's ruling family, the Medici. Vespucci's uncle served as Italy's ambassador (or country representative) to France. As a young man, Vespucci was sent on a mission by his uncle to meet with the King of France. Historians believe that this trip likely sparked his interest in traveling and exploring.

As an adult, Vespucci moved to Spain and became a banker. He worked with merchants (store owners) who helped to provide supplies for voyages - even the voyages that Christopher Columbus was credited with 'discovering' America during! (Although, at the time, Columbus he thought he'd landed in part of Asia!) Legend has it that Vespucci and Columbus met briefly between Columbus's voyages and that Columbus shared about the new places he'd visited.

When his business started to fail, Amerigo Vespucci decided to become an explorer and travel to new and faraway lands, an idea that was sparked by his fascination with travel and adventure.

Amerigo Vespucci was the first explorer to call the Americas, the New World.
Amerigo Vespucci

Exploration

Historians believe that Vespucci made several voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, both as a crew member and as a leader. His third trip, in 1501, was his most successful. It is noteworthy that by this time, Vikings already had settlements in what is now called North America, and Columbus had landed in the Caribbean, south of Florida, although Columbus still wasn't sure if he was in Asia or another land.

During his 1501 voyage, Vespucci discovered a portion of South America now called Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. He was also the first to 'discover' the Amazon River. Columbus had considered the possibility that he might have landed on a new continent instead of in Asia, but he couldn't be sure. Vespucci's finds in South America confirmed that Columbus had discovered a new continent. He called this land the new world.

Mapmakers were the first to use the name America to describe the New World.
16th Century Map

Controversy

A series of letters, supposedly written by Vespucci, describe his voyages and his discoveries. The problem is…most historians now believe they were not real. These letters made it seem like Vespucci, and not Columbus, discovered the new world.

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