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Amerigo Vespucci

Vespucci, Amerigo (Latin, Americus Vespucius) (1454-1512), Italian navigator, born in Florence, who claimed that on his first voyage (1497-1498) he reached the North American mainland before any other explorer. In 1495 he took over the business of a merchant in Seville who had furnished supplies to ships voyaging to the West Indies. He later set out for the New World himself. He left accounts and maps of four voyages.

Although most scholars discredit many of his claims and seriously doubt whether there was a first voyage, they tend to agree that Vespucci did, on the expedition led (1499-1500) by the Spanish soldier Alonso de Ojeda, explore a large section of the northern coast of South America and, on a subsequent voyage, may have also explored part of that continent's eastern coast as far south as the Rio de la Plata. The German geographer and cartographer Martin Waldseemller, who translated Vespucci's narrative in 1507, suggested that it might be proper to name the new continent America, an adaptation of the explorer's given name of Amerigo, because Vespucci had been the first European explorer to state that South America was a "new" continent, and not a part of Asia. Applied first to the southern continent, the name gradually came into use as that of the two western continents after it appeared on a planisphere published by Waldseemller in 1516.