Columbus Reaches the Americas: On This Day, 1492

On October 12, 1492, after a two-month voyage, Christopher Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas he called San Salvador—though the people of the island called it Guanahani. From there, Columbus and his men traveled around the Caribbean for five months, taking particular interest in the islands of Juana (now Cuba) and Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti). In a 1493 letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Columbus reported on his experience and actions upon landing on each island, writing,

I discovered many islands, thickly peopled, of which I took possession without resistance in the name of our most illustrious Monarch, by public proclamation and with unfurled banners.

The popular image of Columbus’s first landing was influenced by an 1847 painting by John Vanderlyn, commissioned by Congress for the Capitol Rotunda. This representation of the event was quickly circulated in engravings like the one below as well as stamps, advertisements, and even currency.

Landing of Christopher Columbus, engraving by H. B. Hall, 1856. (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC08878.0001