Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo Vespucci is the only person in history to have two entire continents named after him - North America and South America.

Vespucci made several expeditions to the New World, in Christopher Columbus’ footsteps. He wrote a letter about his voyages. It was published under the title of ‘The New World’ and many people read it. It gave Europeans an idea of the shape of the continent of South America. It also included stories of cannibals who lived there.


This picture of cannibals is from a map of the New World (Terra Nova) in a 1535 edition of Ptolemy's Geography printed in Lyon. Click on the image to see more.

Christopher Columbus had insisted that he had reached the Eastern fringes of Asia. Vespucci was the first person to recognise that the continent that Columbus discovered was a new world, so map-makers named it after him.

The German map-maker, Martin Waldseemüller, issued a map with a rough outline of South America labeled ‘America’, in 1507. The name ‘America’ was given to the northern continent as well in 1515.

Columbus and Vespucci discovered a New World but they did not find the western sea route to Asia. That was up to Ferdinand Magellan.

Detail from a 1522 map of the world by Lorenz Fries

This detail from a 1522 map of the world by Lorenz Fries was published in the same edition of Ptolemy's Geography as the map of the New World depicting cannibals (above).
Click on the image to see more.