Columbus Day has been celebrated in America as the day on which Christopher Columbus made landfall on his first voyage to discover a sea-route to the Indies.
Christopher Columbus (variously, Cristobal Colon) was born in Genoa, Italy circa 1446, the son of a wool comber. Christopher was educated in the subjects of mathematics, astronomy and navigation; he spent much time in his youth listening to the tales told by sailors.
When he was fourteen years old, Christopher joined a ship's crew and went to sea.
Circa 1470 Columbus moved to Lisbon, Portugal, where he met and married his wife, the daughter of an Italian navigator.
Despite the fact that the ancient Greeks had proposed the theory that the earth was a round sphere, when Europe stagnated during the Medieval Age, many scientific theories and known facts were lost. With the dawning of the Renaissance in the Thirteen and Fourteenth Centuries, scientists and mathematicians revisited many of the ideas that had been lost.
Christopher Columbus may have read the writings of Aristotle, who had shown that the earth was round. It is not known if he "borrowed" the concept, or if it can to him independently. Be that as it may, he began to pursue the idea and attempted to sell the idea to others who might be interested in funding his efforts to prove it.
In 1482 Columbus presented his idea of sailing westward to reach Asia and the Indies to King John II of Portugal. He was turned down, but the king secretly set the plan in motion by sending out a ship of his own to try to make the attempt. The pilot of that ship was not up to the task and turned back before venturing too far into the Atlantic.
In the meantime, circa 1484, after his disappointment in Portugal, Columbus traveled to Genoa and Venice to try to obtain funding for his project. He was turned down everywhere he went.
Finally, Columbus returned to the Iberian Peninsula. As he was travelling, he stopped at a Franciscan convent for rest, and in talking with the superior, found that the priest was quite interested in the project for which he was trying to obtain funding. That priest was impressed enough with the idea, that he went on Columbus' behalf to the court of Ferdinand (of Aragon) and Isabella (of Castille) and used his influence to convince them to consider helping Columbus.
Ferdinand and Isabella were initially unimpressed and sent Columbus away. But later Isabella recalled Columbus to tell him that she had made the decision to raise the money he needed to outfit three vessels for the voyage.
The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria set sail on 03 August 1492 from the port of Palos, Spain. After a stopover at the Canary Islands to make repairs to the ships, the small fleet again set sail on 06 September.
The crew nearly mutinied after sailing day after day and not finding and land. Columbus quelled the mutiny, though, and the ships continued on. Then, at two o'clock on the morning of 12 October 1492, land was sighted. Columbus landed and named the island San Salvador. In the next few days, the voyagers explored a number of the islands which Columbus christened the West Indies, assuming that they were part of India; he was convinced that China was just a short distance away.
Having proven his claim, Columbus returned to Spain, arriving on 15 March 1493.
Columbus made three more voyages with larger fleets over the next eight years (the final one being undertaken in 1502). He died at Valladolid, Spain on 20 May 1506 at the age of 54.
The first known celebration of the anniversary of the discovery by Columbus took place three hundred years after that discovery: 1792. A ceremony was held in New York City in that year. It was organized by the Columbian Order of the Society of St. Tammany.
The day did not become a Federal holiday until the year 1937.