Timing is Everything
Johann Gutenberg's mid-fifteenth-century printing innovations enabled the publication of previously rare manuscripts, among them the work of the second-century cartographer Claudius Ptolemy. His Cosmographia included a significant underestimation of the earth's circumference, which led Christopher Columbus to believe that Asia lay only thirty-five hundred miles across the Atlantic. The political ambitions of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella provided the backing, and Columbus headed west with ninety men.
Columbus was not the first European to reach the New World, but the printing press made him the most famous. His account of the voyage attracted many readers, including Amerigo Vespucci, who explored the South American coast and recognized this landmass as an unknown continent, not Asia. Vespucci observed the prevalence of conflict among neighboring indigenous groups and demonstrated how these disputes could be exploited for European gain.
[Argentine [i.e., Strassburg]: Mathiam hupfuff, 1505.] Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History (A 1505 .V47)