Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca [Cabeza de Vaca means “head of a cow”] (1490?-1557?) was a Spanish explorer who sailed to North America from Spain, leaving in 1527. He traveled from Florida to Texas on a raft, then walked from Texas to Mexico City. He also explored the Paraguay River in South America. De Vaca and his fellow travelers were the first Europeans to see the bison, or American buffalo.
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (1685-1749) was a Canadian soldier and explorer who traveled farther west than any previous European explorer had; he traveled to Lake Winnipeg and then southwest, almost reaching the Missouri River. He was searching for a route across Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. His father was the sieur de Varennes, the governor of Trois Rivières, Quebec, Canada.
Baron Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a Prussian naturalist and explorer who explored much of Central and South America. Humboldt and his friend, the French botanist Aime Bonpland, explored the coast of Venezuela, the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, and much of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico (1799-1805).
On their many expeditions, Humboldt and Bonpland collected plant, animal, and mineral specimens, studied electiricity, did extensive mapping of northern South America, climbed mountains, observed astronomical phenomena, and performed many scientific observations.
Captain George Vancouver (1758-1798) was an English explorer and navigator who sailed to the northwest coast of North America. His two ships, “Discovery” and “Chatham,” reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca (near what is now the US-Canadian border) in May, 1792. He then sailed to Puget Sound (near what is now Seattle); Vancouver named Puget Sound (he named it for Lieutenant Peter Puget who was sailing under Captain Vancouver on the ship “Discovery”). Vancouver also named Mt. Rainier, Whidbey Island, and the Hood Canal. The expedition then sailed north, discovering what is now called Vancouver Island, and then sailing around it. Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver are named for him. Vancouver had previously served under Captain James Cook on his second and third voyages sailing around the world.
Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485-1528) was an Italian navigator who, in 1524, explored the northeast coast of North America from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Maine while searching for a Northwest passage to Asia. Verrazzano sailed for King François-premier (Francis I) of France. Verrazzano’s brother, Girolamo da Verrazzano, was a mapmaker who accompanyed Giovanni on his voyage, and mapped the voyage.
Verrazzano left Madeira, Spain, on January 17, 1524, and landed at Cape Fear on March 1. He first sailed south, then returned and sailed north, to New York, anchoring the narrows that are now name for him. He sailed up to Maine and then on to New Foundland, Canada, and back to Europe (landing in Dieppe, France on July 8). Verrazzano thought that North America was a thin isthmus separating the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Verrazzano was killed and eaten by Carib Indians in 1528. The Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, a suspension bridge that spans New York Harbor, connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island (New York, USA), was named for Verrazzano.
Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) was an Italian explorer who was the first person to realize that the Americas were separate from the continent of Asia. America was named for him in 1507, when the German mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller, printed the first map that used the name America for the New World.
On his first expedition (sailing for Spain, 1499-1500), Vespucci was the navigator under under the command of Alonso de Ojeda. On this trip, Ojeda and Vespucci discovered the mouth of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers in South America, thinking it was part of Asia. On his second expedition (sailing for Portugal, 1501-02) he mapped some of the eastern coast of South America, and came to realize that it not part of Asia, but a New World.
Sebastián Vizcaíno (1550?-1628?) was a Spanish nobleman, explorer and merchant. In 1602, Vizcaino sailed up te coast of California in three ships at the request of King Phillip II of Spain. Vizcaino named Monterey Bay (named for the viceroy Conde de Monterey who sponsored this voyage) and San Diego (Vizcaino arrived there on the feast day of San Diego de Alcala, November 12). One ship sailed as far north as Oregon. Vizcaino also named San Clemente, Catalina, Santa Barbara, Point Concepcion, Carmel, Monterey, La Paz, and Ano Nuevo. Most of the crew died from scurvy (a lack of vitamin C). Although Cabrillo had already named many of these place, Vizcaino published well-read accounts of his voyages, and his names were used. Vizcaino’s earlier attempt, in 1596, to colonize southern California failed; it was 150 years before other Europeans came to California. Vizcaíno travelled to Japan in 1610, meeting with the retired shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in Sumpu (now Shizuoka); Vizcaino returned to Mexico with a mission led by Hasekura Tsunenaga, who both hoped to open trade between Mexico/Spain and Japan (but the mission failed after the expelled Japanese Christian priests from Japan, angering the Spanish). Sebastián Vizcaíno Bay, a bay of the Pacific Ocean, in the western Baja California peninsula, Mexico, is named for Vizcaino.