Amerigo Vespucci became an explorer because his education and background fitted him for the position of navigator on Spanish and Portuguese voyages to the New World. Additionally, while working with a ship supplier he helped outfit some of Christopher Columbus' voyages and may have met Columbus after his maiden voyage.
Born in 1454, Vespucci was raised in Florence, Italy. Unlike his older brothers, who became academics, he found employment as a merchant under the powerful Medici family. In 1492, the year Columbus discovered the West Indies, the house of Medici sent Vespucci to Spain. Enthralled by the example of Columbus and the possibility of fame as an explorer, he set sail as a navigator in voyages first under the auspices of the Spanish crown and later sponsored by the Portuguese.
There is historical controversy about how many voyages Vespucci made to America. It is certain that between May 1499 and June 1500 he took part in a Spanish expedition that reached Guyana and followed the South American coast to the mouth of the Amazon River. In 1501, under Portuguese patronage, Vespucci sailed south as far as Patagonia. He was the first to realize that South America was a new continent, which he called the New World. In 1507, a German cartographer called the New World America, after the feminine version of Vespucci's name.