August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus set out on his first voyage to
what came to be known as the New World. With three ships and a crew of
ninety, Columbus hoped to find a western route to the Far East.
Instead, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed in the Bahama
While Columbus was not the first European to
successfully cross the Atlantic, as Viking sailors are believed to have
established a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland sometime in the
11th century, he did initiate a lasting encounter
between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere.
commemoration of Christopher Columbus's landing in the New World (at
San Salvador Island, also known as Waitling Island, today part of the
British Bahamas) on October 12, 1492, Columbus Day is annually
The first Columbus Day celebration was held in 1792,
when New York City celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in
the New World. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison called upon the
people of the United States to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th
anniversary of the event. Some Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day
as a celebration of their heritage, the first occasion being in New
York City on October 12, 1866.
Columbus Day was popularized as
a holiday in the United States by a lawyer, a son of Genoese immigrants
who came to California. During the 1850s, Genoese immigrants settled
and built ranches along the Sierra Nevada foothills. As the gold ran
out, these skilled "Cal-Italians" from the Apennines were able to
prosper as self-sufficient farmers in the Mediterranean climate of
Northern California. San Francisco has the second oldest Columbus Day
celebration, with Italians having commemorated it there since 1869.
number of nations celebrate this encounter with annual holidays:
Discovery Day in the Bahamas, Hispanic Day in Spain, and Dia de la Raza
in much of Latin America. In 1937, Congress and President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday to be held
every October 12 (36 USC 107, ch. 184, 48 Stat. 657).
1971, Congress moved the U.S. holiday from October 12 to the second
Monday in October to afford workers a long holiday weekend. It is
generally observed today by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal
Service and other federal agencies, most state government offices, and
many school districts; however, most businesses and stock exchanges
For more information on Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day, visit the Library of Congress.