Everyone knows that explorer Christopher Columbus found some version of the Americas (though not actually the United States) in 1492, but were you aware that today is the day that he first set sail? Education! Sailing on behalf of Queen Isabella under the flag of Spain, Columbus was sent across the Atlantic Ocean to find a western sea route to India and China. He took three ships: The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
In retrospect, Columbus' journey was amusing in its ineptitude. Three months into the trip, he arrived at what was probably Watling Island in the Bahamas and claimed it for Spain. Later that month, Columbus spotted what he thought was mainland China, but in reality it was Cuba. And several weeks later, Columbus set foot on land that he thought was Japan. In reality, it was the island of Hispaniola, where he set up a colony with his crew mates.
The trip wasn't fruitless, as Columbus returned to Isabella with gold, spices and various natives he has captured (helping to establish a long history of European exploitation of the indigenous peoples of the so-called "New World"). He lead a total of four expeditions in his lifetime, though he never realized his original goal of finding a path to Asia. Nor, apparently, did he ever properly set foot in North America (though the logs from his later trips are sketchy). Despite his checkered biography, Columbus was a bold explorer willing to take risks for the sake of discovering the limits of the natural world. In his honor, enjoy Modest Mouse's "Missed the Boat."