In today's global economy, we often take for granted our ability to buy and sell anything and everything on the Internet with people all over the world. While it is easy to trade worldwide now, in the 1400's it was much more difficult and dangerous. People still believed that the world was flat and those who dared to say it was round risk being jailed.
In 1486, trade between Europe and Asia was beginning to flourish and spice merchants were looking for an easier route to Asia. The most popular route required sailors to voyage around Africa and then continue eastward along the coast of India. An Italian by the name of Christopher Columbus thought that it would be easier to sail west and saw this as an opportunity to discover a new route. Eventually, he convinced Queen Elizabeth of Spain to finance his expedition to discover a new spice trail.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew sailed west with three ships; the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. After two months at sea, his men became tired and sick and threatened to turn back but Columbus encouraged them to continue. Finally, on October 11 at 10 p.m. land was spotted and the next morning they landed in the Bahamas.
When Columbus and his men went ashore they expected to be in India so the first people they saw they called Indians. The "Indians" informed them that they were actually on the island of Guanahani so Columbus immediately claimed the land for Spain, naming it San Salvador. On January 16, 1493, Columbus set sail and returned to Spain on March 4. Columbus went on to make three additional voyages helping to colonize Hispaniola, modern day Haiti, and discovered the South American mainland. However, during all three trips to the new world, he never once went to North American.
Columbus died at home in Spain on May 20, 1506 at the age of 55. Years after his death, controversy rages on as to whether Columbus actually discovered the new world. Especially since neither continent even bears his name. They are both named after an Italian explorer by the name of Amerigo Vespucci.
Columbus Day celebrations did not begin until hundreds of years after his first voyage. The first celebration of the discovery of American was held in New York City on October 12, 1866. The festivities were organized by the Italian population of New York to honor Christopher Columbus, a native Italian for his discovery. Over the years, Italian communities organized celebrations and eventually San Francisco began calling it C Day. In 1905, Colorado became the first state to observe Columbus Day. President Franklin Roosevelt declared October 12 Columbus Day in 1937 and then in 1971, Congress declared it a federal public holiday on the second Monday in October.
No matter how you feel about Christopher Columbus or whether or not he discovered the Americas, he certainly challenged convention and his expeditions changed the course of history. His expeditions lead to the settling of the Americas, paving the way for the colonization of the U.S., trade between Europe and the Americas and eventually today's global economy. Now, we can trade worldwide and never worry about being jailed for daring to think that the world is round.
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