1502 - Naming America


        Were it not for accidents of history that catapulted mankind into an era of technological advancement, where would we be today?  What would the world look like?  Had the great geographer of antiquity, Mr. Ptolemy, not underestimated the size of the world that lay to the east of Gibraltar, would Christopher Columbus have ever dared to set sail to the west in his tiny ships, thirteen centuries later. For more, click here

         Ptolemy's error allowed Columbus to believe that the coast of Asia lay no more than 5,000 nautical miles to the west of the Canary Islands - an error of 8,000 miles.  Given the ships of Columbus' day, a sail of 13,000 miles would have been out of the question.  Without Ptolemy's error, the 'discovery' of the Americas by Europeans might have waited another two or three centuries.

         Given the crudeness of their tools and methods, today we can only marvel at the accomplishments of the early European navigators and the skill of the cartographers.  For more, click here

       Being the first sailor to cross the 'great pond' was a monumental achievement, but even that was not enough for Columbus to win the public relations war in his own lifetime.  Soon after his discoveries were announced to the European world, other explorers were launching their own voyages.  Among these, a Florentine named Amerigo Vespucci was the first to survey the northwest coast of South America, an achievement that earned him exaggerated standing back home.  His celebrity resulted from his ability to promote his own talents and skills as an explorer, and to minimize the achievements of others.   As a result, his name, rather than Columbus', would be affixed to the all-important nautical charts of the New World.