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Amerigo Vespucci 

1451 - 1512

Italian Explorer

Explored Coast of South America

First to Claim that North and South America

Were Continents

The “Americas” Are Named for Him

AMERIGO VESPUCCI WAS BORN in Florence, Italy, in 1451. His 

name is pronounced “ah-MER-ah-go ves-POO-chee.” He was from a 

wealthy merchant family. He liked books and maps when he was 

young. He also liked astronomy. 

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AMERIGO VESPUCCI

As a young man, Vespucci worked for the Medici (meh-DEE-chee) 

family. That was one of the wealthiest, most powerful families in 

Florence. He worked in their businesses and as a banker for them. 

In 1492, he went to Seville, Spain. There, he helped outfit 

Spanish ships for trips of exploration. Historians think that 

Vespucci helped supply the voyages of Christopher Columbus

VOYAGES OF EXPLORATION: The record of Vespucci’s explorations 

is a bit unclear. There is a letter, supposedly by Vespucci, that claims 

he went on his first voyage in 1497. It also states he went on four 

voyages altogether. But most historians think the letter is a forgery. 

They believe that Vespucci went on two voyages of discovery. 

FIRST VOYAGE: Most historians think Vespucci went on his first 

voyage in 1499. He sailed with Alonso de Ojeda (oh-HEY-dah) for 

Spain. Ojeda had been on Columbus’s second voyage. At that time

no one knew that Columbus had actually reached a new continent. 

Columbus himself was convinced he’d reached Asia. 

Vespucci sailed from Spain with four ships in May, 1499. He 

captained one of the ships. After 24 days at sea, they landed in 

what is now Brazil. Vespucci sailed north along the coast of Brazil. 

He saw the mouth of the Amazon River and the Orinoco River. 

Some historians claim that Vespucci was the first European to 

cross the Equator in the west. 

Vespucci then turned north and sailed to the Spanish settle­

ment of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). 

He rejoined Ojeda’s other ships, and they sailed back to Spain. 

Vespucci stopped in the Bahamas and captured 200 natives. He 

took them back to Spain as slaves. He reached home in June 1500. 

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AMERIGO VESPUCCI

SOUTH AMERICA 

BRAZIL 

ARGENTINA 

Strait of 

Magellan 

ATLANTIC 

OCEAN 

ATLANTIC 

OCEAN 

PACIFIC 

OCEAN 

1499-1500 

1501-1502 

640 



Miles 

Possible route of Vespucci’s voyages of 1499-1500 and 1501-1502. 

545



AMERIGO VESPUCCI

SECOND VOYAGE: Vespucci’s next expedition was funded by 

Portugal. He left Portugal in May 1501. On his way, he stopped at 

the Cape Verde Islands. There, he met Pedro Alvares Cabral, who 

was returning from India. Cabral described the land he had recently 

discovered, while on his journey from Portugal to India. Vespucci 

thought they’d seen the same land — what we now call Brazil. And 

he began to think that the land was not Asia. Perhaps it was a New 

World completely. 

Vespucci and his crew sailed on to Brazil. He headed south 

along the coast of what is now South America. No one is sure how 

far south Vespucci traveled. Most historians think it was about 

2,400 miles. He sailed past the area that is now the city of Rio de 

Janeiro. He may have reached southern Argentina. 



DISCOVERING THE “NEW WORLD”: When Vespucci returned to 

Portugal in June 1502, he made a bold statement. He said that he 

had not reached Asia, but had instead discovered a new continent, 

not known to Europeans. He called the continent the “New World.” 



NAMING THE NEW WORLD FOR AMERIGO: Vespucci wrote a 

book about his travels that was read all over Europe. In 1507, a 

German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemueller made a famous 

map that included the new continent. He named it “America.” He 

said it was for “Amerigo, its discoverer, a man of great ability.” 

Later, in 1538, the famous mapmaker Gerhardus Mercator 

named North America and South America for Amerigo Vespucci. 

So although Columbus is generally considered the “discoverer of 

America,” the continents of the New World bear the name of 

Amerigo. 

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AMERIGO VESPUCCI

Map of the Americas from 1596 with portraits of Columbus (upper left), Vespucci 

(upper right), Magellan (lower left), and Pizarro (lower right). 

Columbus wasn’t angry that the New World was named for 

Vespucci. In fact, they were friends. Columbus called Vespucci “a 

man of good will.” 

Vespucci didn’t go on any more voyages. He worked for the 

Spanish government as Pilot Major. In that job, he kept records of 

all the sea voyages made by the Spanish explorers. 

AMERIGO VESPUCCI’S HOME AND FAMILY: Vespucci lived his last 

years in Seville, Spain. He married a woman named Maria de 

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AMERIGO VESPUCCI

Cerezo. They had no children. Amerigo Vespucci died in Seville on 

February 22, 1512. 

HIS DISCOVERY: Vespucci’s most important discovery was that 

the land mass between Europe and Asia was indeed a continent. 

He was the first to call it the “New World.” While his individual 

explorations were not as important as others, the way he thought 

about the lands he saw was new, and very important. 

WORLD WIDE WEB SITE: 

http://www.mariner.org/age/biohist.html 



548

Document Outline

  • p529-544.pdf
  • p545-560



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