Amerigo Vespucci, the man for whom the Americas were named, was born in Florence, Italy, in 1452. He was a navigator and geographer and was sent to Spain in 1491 as an agent for the Medicis, the Italian merchants who were a powerful and ambitious family of aristocrats. It is probable that while he was in Spain, Vespucci met Columbus, and heard of his first voyage. The interesting stories that Amerigo heard fired him with ambition. He also had the desire to make a voyage to unknown lands and see unusual sights and people which no European had ever seen before.
In 1497 he sailed from Cadiz on a voyage of discovery as navigator, or as it was then called "astronomer," probably with Vincente Pinzon, one of Columbus's captains. About seven years after the first voyage of Columbus, Vespucci visited the West Indies. The record of this voyage is indistinct, but he unquestionably reached the continent of South America. In 1499 he was with Alonzo de Ojeda and explored the northern coast of South America, while he was in the Spanish service.
He transferred to the service of the King of Portugal and in 1501, sailed on his second voyage to America, and under other commanders made long voyages along the Brazilian coasts, exploring the surrounding country.
In 1503 Vespucci was given the command of a caravel in a squadron destined for America. But on the voyage he somehow parted company with the other vessels, and discovered the Bay of All-Saints off the coast of Brazil. He entered the Spanish service again in 1505, and was made chief pilot of the kingdom. He again undertook the leadership of a voyage to America.
Vespucci had written a letter to the Duke of Lorraine in 1504 and in it he gave a glowing account of his four voyages to the New World. The date which he gave as the time when he sailed on his first voyage to America was May 29,1497. That was a year earlier than the discovery of the continent of South America by Columbus and of North America by Cabot. This inaccurate account made it appear that Vespucci was the first discover of America.
Vespucci's lively accounts of these voyages were widely read and because of this, the name "America" was suggested by a German geographer for this newly discovered land. The name was generally accepted. This geographer was very enthusiastic about Vespucci's undertakings, but there are many people who do not think this country should have been named for him, nor do they claim that all the records of his voyages are true.
Vespucci was made Pilot Major of Spain after his voyages of discovery. And although his accounts did much to determine the fact that a new land, and not Asia, had been discovered, it is probable that Vespucci, like Columbus, died without knowing that he had seen a new world.