The travels, conquest, and exploration of Christopher Columbus are generally viewed as a turning point in human history. Before his exploration, little was known about the rest of the planet and the other type of people that inhabited it. While remaining a controversial figure, it is no doubt that his quests connected humanity together like no one that had come before. His travels lead the pathways to human learning, expansion, and development. His legacy is felt all over the world, whether entire countries named after him like Columbia or undoubtedly as small as a street named after him in your local area.
Before Christopher Columbus, there was a man known as Giovanni Caboto. He was known to have led three expeditions to the Americas. His first expedition was poorly run, and he was forced to return to England before it got very far. In his second and most important expedition, it is known that he managed to sail across the Atlantic and make it to an unknown point in Canada, which in celebration of the 500th anniversary, was officially declared to be Cape Bonavista Newfoundland. He did not travel inland, but he did sail the coast but had no contact with any other people.
Just as important to the exploration of the North Pole is the South Pole, and there was no more prominent name for it at the time than Ernest Shackleton. He was leading the Nimrod expedition, which took place between the years 1907 and 1909. The journey, named after the 40-year-old small ship he had to use, Shackleton and his expedition made it to the farthest South anyone ever had at the time, to latitude 88° 23′ S. He was just under 100 miles from the actual South Pole. Upon his return to the United Kingdom, Shackleton was given Knighthood by King Edward the VII.
Robert Peary has many credentials to his name. His first expedition launched in 1891 to 1892, and during this first trip, he confirmed to all that Greenland was, in fact, entirely an island. In another expedition taking place in 1894, Peary reached the Cape York Meteorite, located 23 miles just east of Cape York. His best and the most known trip took place from 1898 to 1902, in which he and fellow explorer and member of the expedition Matthew Henson both claimed to have reached what was considered the North Pole at the time.
Frequently momentous achievements get overshadowed by more known ones. While Amelia Earhart was well documented and set her own records, she was certainly not the only one to do so. In the lifetime of Beryl Markham, she set the record for the first person to fly from Great Britain to North America across the turbulent Atlantic ocean all by herself in one single flight, non-stop. The flight took place on September 16, 1936, and lasted for over 20 hours. However, her plane, named The Messenger, had ice clog the fuel lines causing her to crash land on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. She survived the landing and lived until the age of 83.
These days, traveling to the other side of the world and back is a relatively simple act. But then consider that Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition was the first to do it all the way back in 1522. The primary journey was to find a Westward route to the Spice Islands. This voyage started in 1519 and led the Spanish-funded explorer across the Atlantic ocean, down the seaboard to South America, leading to the discovery of the Strait Of Magellan on the southern tip of South America. From there, the fleet crossed the expansive Pacific Ocean and landed in the Philippines.
Vitus Bering was a Danish national who was enlisted by Russia to explore the Asian Pacific Coasts and areas surrounding them. The first major expedition was named the First Kamchatka Expedition and was financed by Peter the Great in 1724. The journey led to the discovery and confirmation of the Bering Strait, a gap of ocean between the Russian and American continents. Based on this success, a second expedition named Great Northern Expedition was launched in 1733. As one of the largest explorations of its kind in history, this expedition led to the discoveries of the Commander Islands, the Aleutian Islands, and the European discovery of what is now Alaska.
Aviation exploration is rife with stories and legends, but none is more well known than the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. While her disappearance and death were never solved and might never be, her records and achievements will always be a part of Aviation and exploration history. She was not only the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, but she was also the first to fly in an autogyro and to do so across the United States. She was the first person to fly solo between Hawaii and California, as well as the first woman to fly coast to coast across the United States.
James Cook initially joined the British Merchant navy when he was just a teenager, where he stayed until 1755, when he joined the Royal Navy. In his first-ever expedition, Cook sailed to what is now New Zealand and completed the first detailed map of the area. He also made the first European contact with the Maori tribes. On his Second Expedition, Cook attempted to travel to Antarctica but was unsuccessful. Instead, he traveled south and returned to New Zealand to restock. Before heading home, he traveled to the South and mapped out what is known as Cape Horn today. Cook became the first European to discover the Hawaiian Islands on his third and final voyage.
Fridtjof Nansen originally started his education as a Zoologist but quickly switched over to being a renowned explorer. His first significant expedition led him and a team of explorers to cover the expanse of Greenland’s ice-covered ground on June 3, 1888. They encountered temperatures of nearly 50 below zero F and snow that acted like mud to pull their supplies through. Between 1983 and 1896, he leads the Fram Expedition to reach the North Pole. Though the trip was not successful, they did manage to achieve the highest altitude record at the time of 86°13.6′N before having to call off the trip. In his life, he was awarded or honored 18 times by 11 different countries for his contributions.
We see from movies and stories all the time of the heroic explorer vanishing into the deep, expansive Jungle. This is precisely what happened to Percy Fawcett and his son Jack. They both disappeared in 1925 while exploring the jungles of what is now Brazil without so much as a trace. Yet, items owned by the explorer seem to randomly pop up through history, such as in 1979 when Fawcett’s signet ring was found in a Pawn Shop, sparking renewed interest in the story and the idea that Fawcett and his son were killed by bandits.
It started as a simple suggestion in 1888 from a woman known as Nellie Bly (pen name of the actual journalist, inventor, and industrialist Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) that she would take a real trip around the world and turn the fictional book ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ into a reality. On November 14, 1889, Bly boarded the ship Augusta Victoria and began her journey. The round trip ended up taking just 72 days and was just short of 25,000 miles in length. She traveled utterly alone, with little more than a few changes of clothing and a small bag of money that she carried around her neck.
Howard Carter is perhaps the best-known explorer of antiquities in the modern era. His most notable discovery is the fully sealed and intact Tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in November of 1922. Inside the Tomb were over 5000 different items, including gilded couches, food, incense, trumpets, thrones, and a fully intact solid gold coffin holding the mummified remains of the Pharaoh. It took well over ten years for Carter to catalog the contents of the Royal burial site thoroughly. Carter died on March 2, 1939, from Hodgkin’s disease. He only had nine people attend his funeral.