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Who Was The First European To Land In North America? Photo Getty

It is well known that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ North America in 1492. Except, of course, he didn’t.

Indigenous peoples had been making their way across what was then a land bridge from Asia for perhaps 20,000 years before him. And we now know that he was not even the first European to become aware of the continent.

This article will give you insights into the first European to land in North America.

Who was the first European to land in North America?

Leif Erikson, sometimes spelled Eriksson, is believed to have been the first European to discover and explore the North American continent. A Norse adventurer, Erikson made his way to Vinland, on the coast of what is now Newfoundland, and may have gone even further into the North American interior.

Who was Leif Erikson?

Leif Erikson was born around 970 c.e., most likely in Iceland, a son of the famed explorer Erik the Red—hence, the patronymic Erikson. His mother was named Thjodhild; she is believed to have been the daughter of a Jorund Atlason, whose family may have had Irish origins. Leif had a sister, Freydis, and two brothers, Thorsteinn and Thorvaldr.

Young Leif grew up in a family that embraced exploration and the Viking way of life. His paternal grandfather, Thorvald Asvaldsson, had been exiled from Norway for killing a man, and subsequently fled to Iceland. Erikson's father then got in trouble in Iceland for murder, around the time Leif was about twelve years old. Since they were as far west at that point as they could possibly go, Erik the Red decided it was time to hit the water and set sail. There were rumors that land had been sighted far to the distant west; Erik took his ships and discovered the place he would call Greenland. Allegedly, he gave it that name because it sounded appealing and would entice farmers and other settlers to relocate there.

Erik the Red, like most adventurers, took his family with him, so Erikson and his mother and siblings ended up being pioneers in Greenland, along with several hundred wealthy farmers who wanted to colonize the land.

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In Iceland and Scandinavia, the name Leif is usually pronounced “Layf” and rhymes with the English word safe (or like “life,” depending on the region). Yet, in America, people often say “Leef” instead. If you grew up with Nicktoons, you might remember Spongebob Squarepants raving about “Leef” Erikson Day in a season two episode.

The spelling of Leif's name is also all over the place. In the Old Norse Language, “Leif Erikson” is spelled Leifr Eiríksson. But in Nynorsk—a younger version of Norwegian writing—it’s spelled Leiv Eiriksson. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To complicate things even further, some writers favor alternate spellings like Ericson, Eriksson, and Erikson. In the U.S., the most widely-used version is Leif Erikson, so we’ll just go with that.

After Leif Erikson returned to Greenland, his brother Thorvald led another Viking expedition to Vinland, but all future efforts to settle in the region failed due to bitter clashes between the Norsemen and the local Native American population. Thorvald himself died in a skirmish somewhere north of the Viking base.

What did Leif Erikson explore?

Photo museum fact
Photo museum fact

Some time in his late twenties or early thirties, Erikson became a sworn hirdman, or companion, of Olaf Tryggvason, the King of Norway. However, on his way to Norway from Greenland, Erikson got blown off course, according to the Norse sagas, and ended up in the Hebrides islands, just off the coast of Scotland. After spending a season there, he returned to Norway and joined King Olaf's retinue.

Olaf Tryggvason was instrumental in converting the Norse people to Christianity. He is said to have erected the first Christian church in Norway and often converted people with threats of violence if they failed to comply. Tryggvason encouraged Erikson to be baptized as a Christian, and then tasked him with spreading the new religion around Greenland.

According to The Saga of Erik the Red, which is the only real source material for Erikson's journeys, during his travel from Norway to Greenland, Erikson may have again been blown off course in a storm. This time, he found himself in a strange land that a merchant, Bjarni Herjólfsson, had once claimed existed to the west, although no one had ever explored it. In other accounts of the story, such as The Saga of the Greenlanders, Erikson deliberately set out to find this new land, some 2,200 miles away, after hearing Bjarni Herjólfsson's story of an uninhabited place that he'd seen from a distance while at sea, but never set foot upon.

The Saga of Erik the Red says, [Erikson] was tossed about a long time out at sea, and lighted upon lands of which before he had no expectation. There were fields of wild wheat, and the vine-tree in full growth. There were also the trees which were called maples; and they gathered of all this certain tokens; some trunks so large that they were used in house-building.

After discovering wild grapes in abundance, Erikson decided to call this new place Vinland, and built a settlement with his men, which was eventually named Leifsbudir. After spending a winter there, he returned to Greenland with a ship full of bounty, and brought a fleet of several hundred settlers to Vinland with him on his way back. Over the following years, additional settlements were built as the population expanded. Archaeologists believe that a Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, discovered in Newfoundland in the early 1960s, may be Leifsbudir.

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Leif Erikson set up a colony in coastal North America.

Leif is one of the first Europeans who established a colony in Vinland. Vinland is now coastal North America. He named it Vinland (Wineland) because the land was full of vines and grapes.

He heard about Vinland from a merchant

Leif initially heard the tales of Vinland from a merchant by the name Bjarni Herjólfsson, who chanced upon it when blown off course as well. But Bjarni never made landfall there. When Leif set sail in hopes of finding it, he bought the same ship which Bjarni used for the purpose of exploring.


Erik Thorvaldson, better known as Erik the Red, had crimson hair and a rough childhood. He was born in Norway, but when his father committed manslaughter there, the family was banished to Iceland, where Erik would go on to marry a rich woman and have four children—including a son he named Leif. Unfortunately, Erik killed a neighbor in a skirmish and was temporarily exiled. Instead of going back to Norway, Erik went west, settling in a huge, uninhabited region that another explorer had sighted a few years earlier. Once his banishment was lifted in the year 985 CE, Erik decided to try and establish a new colony on the island he’d found. Luckily, he was a PR genius. To entice others into moving there, he gave the place an appealing name: Greenland. The strategy worked.

Erikson’s Later Life in Greenland and Legacy

Photo history extra
Photo history extra

After his time in Vinland, Erikson returned to Greenland, and he would never return to North American shores. Though his father proved unreceptive to the Christian faith, Leif was able to convert his mother, Thjodhild, who had Greenland’s first Christian church built at Brattahild.

When Erik the Red died, Leif Erikson took over as chief of the Greenland settlement. His son Thorgils was sent by his mother (whom Leif never married) to live in Greenland, but was apparently unpopular. Another (presumably legitimate) son, Thorkel Leifsson, became chief by 1025, after his father’s death. Nothing further is known about Leif’s descendants.

Beginning in the late 19th century, many Nordic Americans celebrated Leif Erikson as the first European explorer of the New World. In 1925, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first official group of Norwegian immigrants in the United States, President Calvin Coolidge announced to a Minnesota crowd that Erikson had been the first European to discover America. And in September 1964, Congress approved a public resolution that authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to declare October 9 as “Leif Erikson Day.”


America Not Discovered By Columbus—and other books like it—gave Leif Erikson a rabid U.S. fanbase. Early on, though, it became clear that some admirers didn’t just like him because he was a great explorer: They liked him because he wasn’t Catholic. The surge of immigrants from places like Poland and Italy led to an anti-Catholic backlash in the States. To many Anglo-Saxon Protestants, honoring Christopher Columbus—an Italian who practiced Catholicism—seemed odious. From their perspective, Leif Erikson looked way more appealing.

Nevertheless, Columbus Day emerged as a federal holiday, and Leif Erikson Day has yet to achieve that distinction. It is, however, customary for the sitting U.S. president to honor Scandinavian-Americans every year on October 9 by way of a proclamation, a tradition that started in 1964.

About how many Europeans immigrated to America from 1865 to 1918?

Photo wikiwand
Photo wikiwand

In an unprecedented wave of European immigration, 27.5 million new arrivals between 1865 and 1918 provided the labor base necessary for the expansion of industry and agriculture, as well as the population base for most of fast-growing urban America.

By the late nineteenth century, the United States had become a leading global industrial power, building on new technologies (such as the telegraph and steel), an expanding railroad network, and abundant natural resources such as coal, timber, oil, and farmland, to usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

There were also two very important wars. The U.S. easily defeated Spain in 1898, which unexpectedly brought a small empire. Cuba quickly was given independence, as well as the Philippines (in 1946). Puerto Rico (and some smaller islands) became permanent U.S. territories, as did Alaska (added by purchase in 1867).

The independent Republic of Hawaii was annexed by the U.S. as a territory in 1898. The United States tried and failed to broker a peace settlement for World War I, then entered the war after Germany launched a submarine campaign against U.S. merchant ships that were supplying Germany's enemy countries.

The publicly stated goals were to uphold American honor, crush German militarism, and reshape the postwar world.

After a slow mobilization, the U.S. helped bring about a decisive Allied Forces victory by supplying badly needed financing, food, and millions of fresh and eager soldiers.

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