As most of you remember from your history lessons, there was a time when people actually thought that the world was flat. When Europeans went to India and the Orient, they would take ships around Africa and sail on the Indian Ocean or take the Silk Road across Asia. Either way was a long journey.
In 1485, Christopher Columbus spoke with King John II of Portugal about crossing the Atlantic to reach the Orient. He would keep trying for the next 3 years but was unsuccessful when another explorer said going around the Cape of Good Hope was better. He spoke to other dignitaries in Genoa, Venice and England and had no luck.
Another nation that Columbus tried to convince was Spain. Starting in 1486, he would speak about the trade winds from the Canary Islands making it quicker to cross the Atlantic and estimated that it was around 2,400 miles to the Orient going west. Originally, Spain did not believe you could cross the Atlantic and definitely didn’t think the Orient was that close. It wouldn’t be until 1492 that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would supply him with what he would need to cross the Atlantic.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus would leave with his crew, supplies and ships heading westward. He would initially go to the Canary Islands, leaving there on September 6th. Now he would ventured unknown territory for the next 5 weeks until October 12th when land was spotted in modern day Bahamas. It’s not the Orient, but a new land. This would be the beginning of Europeans discovering the Americas. Of course, the Vikings discovered North America 4 centuries earlier, but this was a major time of exploration, especially by the Spanish, French, Dutch and British.
On May 1, 1893, Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the New World in 1492. Along with the Exposition, the US mint for the first time produce a commemorative coin. They would mint 5,000,000 Columbian Half Dollars between 1892 and 1893, but with demand being low, they would end up melting half of them. As well as being the first US Commemorative minted, it was the first US coin to display an actual person. Christopher Columbus would appear on the obverse and a ship and two globes appear on the reverse. In 1893, another Commemorative was made for the Exposition. Instead of a half dollar, it would be a quarter depicting Queen Isabella. This time, the mint would only produce 25,000 quarters making it a rare commemorative. An low end uncirculated quarter is worth around $500. There were also stamps produced for the exposition.
Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1937, though four states do not celebrate it. Originally, the holiday would on October 12th, but starting in 1970, it would be celebrated on the second Monday in October. On the 500th Anniversary in 1992, Berkeley, CA would instead celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. Since then, other cities in the US would replace Columbus Day with a Native American holiday. There has been controversy about Christopher Columbus in past few decades. Being born in Italy, many Italian Americans praise Columbus. In fact, in my community, there is a Columbus Day Parade. 1992 saw the largest parade so far. On the other side are the American Indians who considered Columbus a tyrant and slave owner of the locals.
Whether you are celebrating Columbus’s first discovery of America, or you celebrating the heroic efforts of the Native Americans, I wish you a great day!