- The first explorer to reach North American was Leif Ericson. He was a Norseman and sailed around 1,000 A.D. The Norsemen were people who inhabited Scandinavia during the Middle Ages.
- Marco Polo was an Italian explorer who traveled to the Far East, to what was known then as Cathay or China. When his book was written it made many men want to explore. His explorations took place between 1271-1295.
- Probably the best known explorer in the United States is Christopher Columbus. In 1492, Columbus set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in search of India. He didn’t find India, but is credited with finding the New World (West Indies). Columbus sailed for Spain.
- Amerigo Vespucci is important because he was one of the early explorers of the New World, and also because the continents of North and South America were named in his honor. Vespucci knew Columbus and helped him get his ships ready his second and third voyages. Vespucci believed Columbus was wrong in thinking that the world was a smaller size. He was one of the first explorers to come up with the idea that these places he had visited were not part of Asia, as Columbus had thought, but rather were part of a “New World.” He went on at least two, and possibly four, voyages to Central and South America between 1497 and 1504. He sailed for Spain and Portugal.
- In 1513, Vasco de Balboa, a Spanish explorer, led an expedition across Panama and found the Pacific Ocean.
- In 1513, another Spanish explorer named Juan Ponce de Leon, explored what is now the state of Florida looking for the “Fountain of Youth”.
- In 1520-1521, Magellan proved through his explorations that the Earth is round. He established the first route to the East that involved sailing to the west. This passage went around the tip of South America. Magellan sailed for the Spanish king Charles I.
- Four Spanish explorers also made history when they traveled to the Americas. Between 1519 and 1521, Hernando Cortez conquered the Aztecs in Mexico. Between 1523 and 1535, Francisco Pizarro conquered Peru in South America. Between 1539 and 1541, Hernando De Soto explored what is today the southwest United States and discovered the Mississippi River. Between 1540 and 1542, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado also spent time exploring the American southwest.
- The most famous English explorer is probably Sir Francis Drake. Between 1577 and 1580, he made his voyage around the world, defeated the Spanish Armada, and claimed what is now the state of California for England.
From 1400 AD until 1700 AD, there was a period of time called "The Golden Age of Exploration". Many European explorers traveled to the New World on their voyages of discovery. The countries that sent these men to find trade routes to the New World were: England, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, and Italy. Many of the early explorers were also going to claim lands for these countries and conquer any people living on these lands.