Most people know that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, but few know why. Two myths about Vespucci are common. The first is that Vespucci was a fraud who never traveled to the New World. The second is that he was the first European to set foot on mainland America. Both are untrue.

Waldseemüller's 1507 map with the continent of South America labeled as "America"Vespucci made two trips to the New World as a ship’s navigator, the first in 1499. Then in 1503 and 1504 he published two letters he had written to Lorenzo de Medici about his voyages. In the letters he put forward the idea that what Columbus had discovered was not in fact a new route to Asia, but rather a new continent. Vespucci also published the first letter under the title Novus Mundus, or New World, thereby coining that phrase. The letters were a media hit (but whether their popularity was because of his innovative navigational theories or his description of the sex lives of American Indians is a question), and Vespucci became a celebrity.

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