Did you know...?

Over five hundred fifty five years ago an Italian boy was born in a small village called Montefioralle, south of Florence, Italy. Raised and educated by his uncle, this bright young lad started his life early as a businessman involved in trading goods. Later in life opportunity brought him into employment by Lorenzo de’ Medici, an Italian statesman and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic during the Italian Renaissance who was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.

He continued working for Lorenzo the Magnificent until Lorenzo’s death in 1492. Then, at the age of forty-four he moved to Seville, Spain to work at the Medici Bank owned by Lorenzo’s family. At the time, the Medici Bank was the largest and most respected bank in Europe. The accumulated wealth of the Medici family cannot, at this time, be accurately calculated considering the vast amounts of land they owned, as well as priceless art, gold and their involvement in many other enterprises. Because of the great expanse of their control and influence it is believed they were at that time the wealthiest family in Europe. Much of their wealth was acquired through their political power, initially in Florence, but their ventures and interest soon spread through the rest of Italy and throughout Europe.

Through his working with the Medici family he had opportunity to meet many people of influence and continued to make his way in life earning a sound reputation as an astute business man. His involvement in trading goods caused him to become very familiar with ships and those who financed, managed and sailed them. It is likely he was there when Christopher Columbus returned from his first journey to the New World since it is recorded that he helped Columbus get ships ready for his second and third voyages to the New World.

It wasn’t long till the Italian’s reputation earned him an invitation by Spain to participate as an official observer in several voyages that were to explore the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502. This opportunity he eagerly embraced as he had great interests in trade routes and other opportunities. It was his hopes to discover a quicker route to Asia to increase the profitability of Spain’s trade market. This Italian quickly proved himself and became a reputable explorer, navigator and skilled cartographer (map drawer). It is strongly believed that on this first voyage he became one of the earliest visitors to Florida’s Emerald Coast as they cruised along the northern Gulf Coast in the spring of 1498.

Because of his mapping methods, he became convinced that these places he had visited were not part of Asia, as was the belief of Columbus, but rather were part of a "New World." These conflicting beliefs led some to speculate that he was trying to steal the fame and recognition that was due Columbus. But, in 1505 Columbus wrote his son, Diego, in admirable defense of this Italian. Columbus wrote, "It has always been his wish to please me; he is a man of good will; fortune has been unkind to him as to others; his labors have not brought him the rewards he in justice should have."

Later in 1508, after only two successful voyages to the Americas, the position of Chief of Navigation of Spain was created for him giving him the responsibility of planning navigation for voyages to the Indies. That same year King Ferdinand commissioned him to establish a school of navigation which would establish proven navigational standards and modernize the techniques used by the Spanish sea captains then exploring the world. He even developed an elementary, yet remarkably accurate method of determining longitude which remained popular for nearly two hundred years, until the development of more accurate methods using chronometers.

Well, by now I am sure you want to know who was this Italian explorer, who probably was the earliest recorded visitor to Panama City Beach’s Emerald Coast? Well, a couple more clues; back in 1507 a pamphlet was published called "The Four Voyages of Amerigo" and the author suggested that the “New World” that was explored should be named in his honor. Plus, based upon this explorer’s navigational records and maps, that same year cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the continents of “New World” America, after the Italian’s first name. At first, the name of America was only meant to apply to South America, but later on, both continents of America became known by his name.

So, what is the Italian explorer’s whole name? Amerigo Vespucci.