Born in Florence, Italy in 1454 - Died Seville, Spain in 1512
Born into a prominent Florentine family and with an uncle who was a distinguished scholar, Americas namesake Amerigo Vespuccis studied Greek and Latin, the physical sciences, and later, diplomacy. After his fathers death in 1482, he became manager of the de Medici familys merchant business, a position he held for 15 years, moving to Spain to oversee the business in 1491. During that time, he acquired many maps and charts, and contacts in Spain.
Amerigo, sometimes also known as Americus, Vespucci was a skilled navigator and a trader of goods. After Columbus third voyage, Vespucci sailed, first, as a navigator for Spain, and then on his own expeditions for Portugal. He explored almost 6,000 miles of South Americas coastline, discovered the Amazon River, and first recorded the equatorial currents He sailed under the Portuguese and Spanish flags to what is today known as Central and South America. He was the first to postulate that these lands were not the western edges of Asia, but in fact an entirely "New World".
There is some controversy around the account of how it is that the Americas came to have their name. It has been assumed that the map maker Martin Waldseemuller's believed that Vespucci should receive credit for the discovery of the "New World" based on two letters by Vespucci which were widely circulated. There is now some research that indicates that most of the contents of the letters were forgeries. However, it is not known what Waldseemuller's sources for Vespucci's exploits were. Nonetheless, it does appear that he named what is today South America after Vespucci. Eventually the term was applied to both North and Central America as well. The Martin Waldseemuller map became the standard for the maps to follow.
An excellent new book by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto published by Random House in 2007 is entitled
Amerigo: The man who gave his name to America
Written by Janice Mancuso