How Columbus Sailed Into U.S. History, Thanks To Italians : Code Switch : NPR: It's been 521 years since the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus "sailed the ocean blue/in fourteen hundred and ninety-two." Since then, there have been thousands of parades, speeches and statues commemorating Columbus, along with a critical rethinking of his life and legacy.
But the question remains, how did a man who never set foot on North America get a federal holiday in his name? While Columbus did arrive in the "New World" when he cast anchor in the Bahamas, he never made it to the United States.
This is in contrast to Juan Ponce de Leon (who arrived in Florida in 1513), Alonso Alvarez de Pineda (whose ships arrived in what's now known as Corpus Christi Bay in Texas in 1519) and fellow Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano, who reached New York Harbor in 1524.
So why Columbus Day? Until the mid-1700s, Christopher Columbus was not widely known among most Americans. This began to change in the late 1700s, after the United States gained independence from Britain. The name "Columbia" soon became a synonym for the United States, with the name being used for various landmarks in the newly created nation (see the District of Columbia, Columbia University and the Columbia River).