On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus set out on his first voyage to what came to be known as the New World. With three ships and a crew of ninety, Columbus hoped to find a western route to the Far East. Instead, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed in the Bahama Islands.
If the winds are favorable the distance is traveled quickly; but no one must start without being sure of the weather, and this assurance can be obtained by observing the sky, and finding out that this is very clear and that the wind comes from the side of the northern star, and blows for some days always in the same direction.
Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, February 6, 1502. In The Authentic Letters of Columbus. William Eleroy Curtis [introduction]; (Chicago: Field Columbian Museum, May 1895), I, no. 2:125.
Columbus set sail in an era of maritime advances, charting his route with the aid of a mariner’s compass, an astrolabe, a cross-staff, and a quadrant. The most popular map for mariners at the time was Ptolemy’s Geography or Cosmography, printed in 1482 but originally compiled by the Alexandrian geographer, astronomer, and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy in the second century A.D.
Early on the morning of October 12, 1492, a crew member spotted land. At daylight, Columbus went ashore and planted the flag of his sponsors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, on the Bahamian island of Guanahaní. Columbus eventually created a base of operations for his first and second trips on the island the Europeans called Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Columbus’ remains are believed to have been buried in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic following his death in 1506.
- Learn more about Columbus’ expedition by visiting the Library of Congress online exhibition, 1492: An Ongoing Voyage.
- Read about the exploration and early settlement of the Americas in the Library of Congress exhibition Exploring the Early Americas.
- View the maps in Discovery and Exploration documenting the European Age of Discoveries, from the late 15th century to the 17th century. Also included are 18th and 19th century maps documenting the exploration and mapping of the interior parts of the continents, reflecting the work of Lewis and Clark and subsequent government explorers and surveyors.
- See Images of Christopher Columbus and His Voyages. No portrait of Columbus drawn or painted from life is known to exist. Many images depicting Columbus and his activities, however, can be found in the Library’s collections. The images in this list were selected to meet requests regularly received by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.