Why the US Became Obsessed with Christopher Columbus

An awful lot of us were introduced to the concept of American history in the lower grades, when we learned of the hero named Christopher Columbus, who "discovered" America. This was when our history began, regardless of the millions of people who already lived here, and had for thousands of years. Columbus wasn't the first European to visit the New World (that was the Norsemen) and he didn't set foot on the mainland (John Cabot did that in 1497). For a couple of hundred years after his voyages, he was rarely mentioned and little remembered. But by the time the 20th century rolled around, Columbus was not only a hero of American history, but a hero of science as well, for proving the world was not flat.

How did that happen? It was a deliberate move, almost like a public relations campaign, although it had no organized sponsors. It began during the American Revolution, when the colonists needed a hero to define their history, and it was most important that the hero had nothing to do with the British. Read how the cult of Columbus began, and came to define American history as it was taught in schools for hundreds of years, at Smithsonian.

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