- A Holiday Is Born
Columbus Day was not declared a legal federal holiday until 1971. Now it’s celebrated on the second Monday of October. But before 1971, several states celebrated Columbus Day on October 12, the day that Columbus’s ship landed in the New World.
- Not the First
Columbus was NOT the first European to reach the Western Hemisphere. The Norse (also called the Vikings) had settled for a time on the coast of North America about A.D. 1000, but most Europeans of the 1400’s did not know about the settlement.
- Spice Is Nice
Columbus set out to reach the Indies—what are now India, China, the East Indies (southeastern Asia), and Japan. He hoped to gain direct access to gold, silk, gems, and spices. Cloves, nutmeg, and mace served as medicines as well as seasonings.
- His Map Man
A map of the world made by Ptolemy, an astronomer and geographer in Alexandria, Egypt, in the A.D. 100’s, might have been the basis for Columbus’s notions of geography. Ptolemy’s map showed most of the world as covered by land.
- Incorrect Calculations
Columbus’s plan was based in part on two major miscalculations.
1) He underestimated the circumference of the world by about 25 percent.
2) He believed that most of the world consisted of land rather than water.
- Years of Waiting
King Ferdinand of Spain placed Columbus’s proposal before his council, which rejected it. The council initially turned down his plan on the correct belief that he had greatly underestimated the length of the journey.
- Big Boats
Martín Alonso Pinzón, an experienced seafarer, captained the Pinta, a caravel with square-rigged sails that could carry about 53 long tons, the equivalent of almost 10 elephants! Columbus’s brother Vicente Yañez Pinzón captained the slightly smaller Niña. Columbus captained the third vessel, the Santa María.
- No Five-Star Dining
The sailors’ main meal consisted of a stew of salted meat or fish, hard biscuits, and watered wine. The sailors had no sleeping quarters, so they huddled on deck in good weather or found a spot below deck during storms.
- Gut Instincts
Columbus had few navigational instruments. He knew enough about celestial navigation to measure latitude by using the North Star. He used a compass to plot his course, estimated distances on a chart, relied on a half-hour glass to measure time, and guessed his speed.
10. Tough Crowd
After a month of smooth sailing, the crews became anxious that they had not yet reached the islands Columbus had led them to expect. They had not sighted land for longer than any other crew of that time!
11. Claiming the Prize
Between the evening of October 11 and the morning of October 12, a sailor on the Pinta named Juan Rodríguez Bermejo called out, “Land, land!” Isabella had offered a reward to the first person to sight land. However, Columbus said that he had seen a flickering light hours earlier, and he claimed the reward.
12. A Christmas Eve Surprise
The night of December 24, an exhausted Columbus gave the wheel of the Santa María to a sailor, who passed it to a cabin boy. The ship crashed and split apart on a reef near Cap-Haïtien, in present-day Haiti. Aided by a local chief, the crew built a makeshift fort. Columbus left about 40 men there to hunt for gold. He then started home on the Niña.
13. Winning the Race
Columbus had been concerned that Martín Pinzón, with whom he had quarreled at times, would reach Spain first and claim the glory. Indeed, Pinzón had reached a small village in Spain a few days earlier and had notified the monarchs of his arrival. However, they refused to see him until they had heard from Columbus, and Pinzón died before he could tell his story.
14. A Legacy of Exploration
Columbus made three more voyages west before his death on May 20, 1506. Many people believed Columbus was poor at the time of his death, but he actually died wealthy.
* Bonus Fact *: Think it should be Columbus’ instead of Columbus’s? Technically, both versions are correct. But according to some grammar rules, adding the ‘s to proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z is preferred.
These fun facts can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.