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Americo Vespucio was the first man to identify the new continent as a new world. Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Americo Vespucci was the first man to identify the new continent as a new world. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Who was Amerigo Vespucci and how did he name an entire continent by mistake?

Americo Vespucci wasn't the first to set foot on the America continent, but was the first to recognize it as a new world.

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Americo Vespucci's name has been shrouded in controversy since the time of the discovery of the New World. There are expert historians who accuse him of taking possession of a discovery that was not his, and it must also be proven whether or not he was the first to set foot on dry land on the American continent. The following is what is known about the history of the continent. 
 
Vespucci was an Italian merchant, born in Florence in 1454, and employed by the ducal house of Medici, who sent him to supervise their shipyard in the port of Seville. It was in this same year, 1492, that Christopher Columbus took his first journey, supposedly to India. In fact, Vespucci was in charge of some of the preparations for Columbus' third journey. 
 
Seven years after Columbus landed in the West Indies, Vespucci organized his own trip in search of a passage that would take him to India. He made two journeys between 1499 and 1501, and possibly a third in 1503.
 
During his first trip, Vespucci explored the northern coast of South America, sailing south, passing beyond the mouth of the Amazon. He gave the place Asian names, such as "The Gulf of the Ganges." He also greatly improved the navigation techniques of the time. During this trip, Vespucci even predicted the circumference of the Earth with a margin of error of 500 miles.
 
However, the Italian's real discovery was on his second journey, when he realized the land he spotted was not India, but in fact a completely new continent. Columbus discovered the New World, but it was Vespucci who recognized it as a new world.
 
Despite his discovery, it was not Vespucci who named the new lands, but a German clergyman and amateur geographer named Martin Waldseemüller. Waldseemüller was a member of a literary academy that published an introduction to cosmology in 1507. In the book, he wrote of the new land Vespucci had explored.
 
"I see no reason why one should object to calling our continent 'America,' for Amerigo was its true discoverer, a man of great skill."
 
It was in this way that the name of the whole continent was defined, even though later Waldseemüller had doubts about the name he coined for the new world. 
 
The German did not count on the influence of the printer, who had already reproduced his text among those interested in the great discovery. There was no longer any way to undo what had been written. When a second land mass was discovered to the north, the two points of the great continent were given the names North and South America.
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