The three main reasons for European exploration of the North American continent were finding an alternate passageway to China and the eastern trade markets, the exploitation of labor and resources in the new world and spreading European-style civilization. In addition to building colonial empires in North America, the European powers were able to use the wealth extracted from those colonies to finance building empires elsewhere. Europeans also obtained new foods from North America, such as tomatoes, beans, squash and corn.
Some of the maps made by the French and Spanish explorers in North America are studied today for the details they provide regarding early ethnic groupings, population movements and environmental change. One of the legacies of the North American explorations is the interest generated by archaeologists and historians with regard to the exact routes taken by the various exploration parties. Sometimes referred to as "history by the inch," the interest has served local municipalities' public relations needs with many towns and cities making claims to their areas having been traversed by various French or Spanish explorers.
The description of Native American customs and cultures is another legacy derived from the early North American explorations. These descriptions can be somewhat distorted by the explorers viewing the native cultures through the lens of European Christianity, but they still remain a source of insight regarding how people lived in North America before the arrival of the Europeans.