Amerigo Vespucci

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Amerigo Vespucci
BirthplaceFlorence, Republic of Florence, in present-day Italy
NationalityItalian, Florentine
Merchant, Explorer, Cartographer
Known for Demonstrating that the New World was not Asia but a previously-unknown fourth continent.[a]

Vespucci, Amerigo

Vespucci, Amerigo (ämārēˈgō vāspo͞otˈchē), 1454–1512, Italian navigator in whose honor America was named, b. Florence. He entered the commercial service of the Medici and in 1492 moved to Seville. He accompanied Alonso de Ojeda in 1499, but by agreement the two separated shortly before land was sighted in the West Indies, and Vespucci alone explored the mouths of the Amazon. Subsequently he sailed along the northern shore of South America and among the islands. He returned to Spain in 1500, and in 1501 he entered Portuguese service to explore the southern coast of South America. Vespucci found the mouth of the Río de la Plata and probably went as far as lat. 50°S. He explored c.6,000 mi (9,700 km) of coastline, but it is in the scientific application of his discoveries that his achievements are remarkable. He evolved a system for computing nearly exact longitude (previously determined by dead reckoning); he arrived at a figure for the earth's equatorial circumference only 50 mi (80 km) short of the correct measurement. Vespucci accepted South America as a new continent, not part of Asia. Consequently cosmography was radically altered, and in 1507, with the publication of Martin Waldseemüller's Cosmographiae introductio, the name America first appeared as applied to the continent. His voyage completed in 1502, Vespucci returned to Spain, where in 1508 he was made pilot major, a high and prestigious position. He died of malaria contracted on his voyages. Vespucci's achievements were long belittled by scholars, but the conclusions of Alberto Magnaghi in the 1920s and 30s are now widely accepted, and the pilot major is given his due. An edition of Vespucci's letters and other documents appeared in English in 1894.


See biographies by G. Arciniegas (tr. 1955), F. J. Pohl (1966), and F. Fernández-Armesto (2007); J. B. Thacher, The Continent of America (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vespucci, Amerigo


Born between 1451 and 1454 in Florence, Italy. Died Feb. 22, 1512, in Seville. A navigator.

For many years Vespucci was a petty clerk in the banking house of Medici and an agent of that firm in Seville. From May 1499 to September 1500 he was in the Spanish naval service and from the spring of 1501 to June 1504, in the Portuguese. Then he returned to Spain and from 1508 to 1512 held the post of pilot major in Castile. Between 1499 and 1504, Vespucci took part in several expeditions to the coasts of the New World. Vespucci’s letters about these travels became renowned and were republished several times between 1505 and 1510. The Lotharingian cartographer M. Waldseemüller ascribed the discovery of “one-fourth of the world,” made by Columbus, to Vespucci and proposed that the continent be named America in honor of Amerigo Vespucci. This name was soon generally accepted for South America, and on Mercator’s map of 1538 it was first applied to North America as well.


Magnaghi, A. Amerigo Vespucci. Rome, 1926.
Arciniegas, G. Amerigo y el Nuevo Mundo. Mexico City [1955].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Vespucci, Amerigo

(1454–1512) Italian navigator-explorer from whose name America is derived. [Am. Hist.: EB, X: 410]
See: America
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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