March 9: Amerigo Vespucci

463-4847How did the American super-continent get its name? Well, we have Italian navigator and explorer Amerigo Vespucci to thank for that, and today we celebrate the anniversary of his birth on March 9, 1454.

Let me make this clear, Christopher Columbus never discovered the “New World.” Although he did explore the area of the world we now know to be the Caribbean and Latin America, he never realized what he had discovered. Columbus thought he had discovered the east coast of Asia. The credit for the discovery of the New World actually belongs to Vespucci.

Shortly after Columbus’ voyages, Vespucci made his own voyages west. On his third voyage (held over the years 1501 to 1502), Vespucci sailed to Brazil and then down the coast of what we now know to be South America and discovered that the coast extended far further than Columbus had claimed. While exploring the continent, Vespucci noted that the land, flora and fauna was unlike any described in prior accounts of Asia by explorers like Marco Polo. So, he wrote to his patron Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, explaining that he believed that this was not Asia as was once believed, but actually a fourth continent.

The publication of Vespucci’s letters inspired German mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller to name the new continent America, after the Latinized form of Vespucci’s name. When Waldseemüller published the map in a 1507 atlas, he explained that “I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part, after Americus who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women”. Although Vespucci was alive at the time of the publication of this map, it’s unknown if he was aware that his name had been given to the new continent.

Let’s raise a glass to Amerigo Vespucci with an Americano. This bitter cocktail was invented at Milan’s Caffè Campari in the 1860s. The drink was originally called a “Milano-Torino”, after the cities of origin of the drink’s ingredients, Campari (from Milan) and Cinzano Vermouth (from Turin). It’s said that in the 1900s, the Caffè Campari staff noticed that the Milano-Torino had become popular with Amerian tourists, so the cocktail was renamed Americano.

Americano

  • 2 ounces Campari
  • 2 ounces Sweet Vermouth
  • Soda water

Pour the Campari and vermouth over ice in a Collins glass. Top with soda water and garnish with a lemon slice.

Tomorrow: “Watson. Come Here. I need you.”

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