Columbus Day commemorates the arrival of explorer Christopher Columbus in the New World on Oct. 12,1492. In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt designated Oct. 12 as Columbus Day, and in 1971, President Richard Nixon declared Columbus Day a federal holiday to be observed on the second Monday in October.
We all know how it happened. On Aug. 3, 1492, Columbus and his three ships set sail from Spain and embarked on a historic journey. Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella backed the Italian-born explorer, who intended to chart a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia, which promised him fame and fortune in Europe.
Instead, Columbus landed in the Bahamas, becoming the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings colonized in Canada during the 10th century. Shortly after Columbus reached land, he spotted Cuba, erroneously believing it was China. Later in the year, he found Hispaniola, which he thought was Japan and where he established Spain’s first colony.
Columbus returned to Spain in triumph, bearing gold and spices. He crossed the Atlantic three more times before his death in 1506, and by his third journey, he realized that he had never reached Asia, but instead had “discovered” a continent previously unknown to Europeans.