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Who Really Discovered America?

Updated on November 8, 2010

When I was in grade school, the standard diatribe for "who really discovered America" was always focused on Christopher Columbus and his three ships (Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria). In fact, Christopher Columbus never set foot on American soil. Why do they keep teaching otherwise in school? (Or do they?  After all, last I heard, American History was a bygone subject for most educational institutions.)

The closest Columbus ever came to America (meaning the geographical region now known as the United States) was the Bahamian islands, Cuba, and Central America just below the Yucatan Peninsula.

Ferdinand Magellan largely restricted his exploration to the southern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, around the southern and eastern portions of South America.

Amerigo Vespucci also spent his time puttering around South America in the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere.

John Cabot's voyages in the late 1400's took him to eastern Canada and the Canadian island provinces. There is some debate over the exact landing site of his voyages that reached North America, but the official location is generally accepted as being in Newfoundland. However, Norse explorer Leif Erikson ventured into this territory roughly 500 years before Cabot (or any other explorer).

(Note: Columbus, Magellan, Vespucci, and Cabot were all Italian explorers.)

Francisco de Coronado (Spanish) explored what is now New Mexico in the mid-1500's.

Hernando de Soto (Spanish) undertook and extensive exploratory journey throughout the southern portion of the current United States in the mid-1500's. He is credited as having led the first European expedition into this part of North America and to have sighted and crossed the Mississippi River.

Ponce de Leon (Spanish) discovered modern day Florida in 1513.

Francisco Pizarro (Spanish) mainly focused his explorations on the eventual conquest of modern day Peru (they believed it to be the site of the legendary El Dorado).

Marco Polo (Italian) primarily explored eastern Europe and southern Asia.

So who REALLY discovered the modern United States? It certainly wasn't the misguided and topographically challenged Italians, despite what History teachers across America are drumming into childrens' heads. Apparently, it was the Spanish.

As for who "discovered" North America (US & Canada), that honor would have to be given to the Vikings (Erik the Red) and Norsemen (Leif Erikson).

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