List of Famous Explorers in History

List of Famous Explorers in History

There have been several famous people in history who were born with an adventurous spirit to explore the unknown. They did this while risking their own lives, and their contribution to this world was tremendous. We have put up a list of famous explorers who have done a lot for mankind.
Laika, Abe, and Baker
Who said only men are great explorers? Laika, the dog, and the monkeys Abe and Baker were the first animals to travel to space. Laika died, but Abe and Baker were the first monkeys to survive spaceflight, paving the way for manned spaceflight.
Outrightly rejecting the claims of religion and conventions of the society, a deep desire to explore the unknown, and unveil the unseen―these must have been the motivations when the explorers set out on voyages to discover new lands. Below is the list of the European, French, Spanish and American explorers, whose discoveries changed the geography as well as the history of the world.

These explorers you will read about took out expeditions into uncharted territory that went on for years. They were unlike common people because of their sheer courage, intelligence, and seamanship that helped them achieve notable success. Here are some reputed voyagers whose names echo out in history even today.
Ibn Battuta
Moroccan Explorer
February 25, 1304 - 1368 or 1369
Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan explorer who was regarded by many historians as one of the greatest travelers ever. He was born in 14th century in present-day Morocco. He was a devout and orthodox Muslim and showed an interest in going for Hajj, or the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. In those days, people still traveled on horse and camel backs in hordes or caravans. This was primarily to avoid the Arab Bedouin, who looted and murdered travelers. Ibn Battuta joined one such caravan traveling to Mecca. Later, the explorer in him would awaken, as he would take many detours on his way to the Holy city.

He always took the least-traveled route to Mecca and visited Egypt, Syria, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. When he did make it to Mecca, he did not turn back and go home. He went north to Iraq, then to Arabia, and then went south to Africa. After this, he sailed to modern-day India and was employed in the court of Mughal emperor Muhammad bin Tughluq as a judge. The emperor appointed him as an ambassador, and Battuta readily accepted it. He went to China and Southeast Asia in his official capacity.

After his journey to China was over, he came back to India and made his way to Calicut, two centuries before Vasco da Gama. He knew that if he went back to Tughluq's court, he would have to serve the emperor for the rest of his life. The will to travel was still there, and hence, he made his way out of India, going back home. From there he traversed North Africa, Timbuktu, and Mali.

Why He is Awesome
He traveled approximately 73,000 miles during his entire journey. And this was when there was no steam or internal combustion engine. It took him 29 years to achieve this feat (understandably!). The most impressive thing about his travels was that he was alive after 29 years of traveling. He took the most treacherous roads and was looted and almost killed on multiple occasions, but he still survived and carried on. This also says a lot about his communication and convincing capabilities.
Vasco da Gama
Portuguese Explorer
c. 1460s - 23 December 1524
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama was a 15th-century Portuguese explorer. He was born in a small fisherman town of Sines, Portugal. His early life is relatively unknown. He followed his father's footsteps in becoming a knight of the Order of Santiago. He was given a mission to deter French ships that harassed Portuguese ships carrying traded goods. This was effectively carried out by Vasco, and he was given his own fleet.

He requested an armada to explore the sea route beyond Cape of Good Hope. At that time, India was discovered, but the spice routes through the Mediterranean mountains was treacherous and full of warring tribes, making trade risky. This was the first mission of Vasco da Gama―to find a sea route, directly linking Portugal to India. He took off from the port of Lisbon on July 8, 1497 and reached Calicut, India on May 20, 1498. This was a historic occasion because he was the first one to find a sea link from Europe to India.

He went to the court of Zamorin, who was the ruling king at that time. He requested that he leave some of his men back to take care of the merchandise he could not sell. This offer was rejected, and this angered Vasco da Gama. He returned to Portugal in anger and sought revenge. However, the trip was pronounced a success in Portugal, and he was seen as a hero. This effectively opened up the colonial race between Spain, England, France, and Portugal. Portugal started a flourishing trade with India and refilled its treasury with the booming spice trade it created.

Vasco da Gama did come back with a very heavily armored armada, looking to bring Zamorin to his knees. But this did not happen, and in the end, Vasco came back red-faced. This remains to be the only blot in his otherwise illustrious career.

Why He is Awesome
He did what the previous sailors could not do―sail around Africa and reach the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Columbus had tried reaching Asia, but could not do so due to navigational errors, but Vasco accomplished this. He also opened up an alternative trade route between Europe and Asia. This snowballed into an economic boom for Europe.
Ferdinand Magellan
Portuguese Explorer
1480 - 27 April 1521
Ferdinand Magellan
Magellan is a Portuguese explorer. His birthplace is disputed, but is either Porto or Sabrosa. He served under King Manuel I and was one of the sailors to accompany the fleet of the First viceroy of India. He lived in India for 8 years spending time in Goa and Cochin.

He put in persistent requests to his king for a separate trade route from the East, but this request was rejected. The king got irritated, and Magellan fell out of favor. He then took a leave without permission and went with the same request to King Charles, who was the ruling king of Spain. At that time, Spain wanted a separate route to trade spices that did not interfere with the Portuguese route. The king granted him a fleet of 5 ships.

Magellan crossed the Atlantic and reached Brazil. Following the South American coast, he reached the southern tip of the continent, now named as the Magellan Strait. He then crossed the Pacific Ocean and reached Philippines, that he called the Spice Country.

The locals greeted him with open arms, but he was sucked into a local battle and was killed with a wooden spear through his chest. The survivors managed their way back.

Why He is Awesome
Well, for starters, he did circumnavigate the globe. He traveled 37,560 miles on the sea. His voyage prompted the first confusion about the date and time, because they had traveled opposite the direction of the rotation of the Earth. This came to be the International Date Line. He also discovered new species in his travels, namely the Guanaco and the Magellanic penguin.
Christopher Columbus
Italian Explorer
Before October 31, 1451 - 20 May 1506
Christopher Columbus
Columbus was an Italian explorer born in the Republic of Genoa, Italy. He is famous for opening up the American continent for trading with the whole of Europe. He started out as a business agent for a merchant, eventually moving up the ranks and commanding his own ship. His reasons for exploration were the same as that of Vasco da Gama. The mission was to find an alternative trade route between Europe and Asia. Columbus suggested that he sail westward and that if he sailed far enough, he would eventually land on Japanese shores.

He tried selling this idea to the Portuguese King, John II. His undertaking was found to be too ambitious and hence was rejected. Then he approached the Spanish king. He accepted, but refused to fund the expedition fully. So, he turned to private businessmen and traders who invested and funded him.

Columbus sailed westward and landed on the Canary Islands on October 12, 1492. He wrongly interpreted the continent as India. This was actually West Indies, and that's how the country got its name. He would go on to discover South America, Cuba, and Jamaica.

Why He is Awesome
Columbus was not a born seafarer. His knowledge about sailing was very limited, but still he achieved his goal. He did remain adamant that the land he discovered was India. He also convinced his investors and the Catholic priests to fund him. This was almost an impossible task as the Church believed that the Earth was flat. Columbus knew that the Earth was spherical, but still managed to convince the church to fund his expedition.
Captain James Cook
British Explorer
November 7, 1728 - February 14, 1779
Captain James Cook
Captain Cook was born in the village Marton, Yorkshire to a farm laborer with the same name. He joined the merchant navy as an apprentice and showed natural abilities to sail. He taught himself algebra, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy to prepare for the exams to get into the Royal Navy. He was selected as a master's mate and served well.

His major career breakthrough came when the English were trying to wrest Canada off the hands of the French during The Seven Years' War. He was exceptionally talented in navigation, surveying, and cartography. His accurate maps of the Canadian coastline helped the British seize control of Canada.

This impressed the Admiralty, and he was given permission to sail in uncharted waters of the Pacific Ocean in search for new land. This was how he discovered Australia, circumnavigated New Zealand, and also mapped Hawaii.

Why He is Awesome
Captain James Cook was very gifted in navigation and made accurate longitude tables. He also helped discover over 3,000 species of plants. His maps of the various lands he discovered are almost accurate. At that time, they were the most detailed maps present. He also managed to not lose a single crew member during the whole expedition. He submitted many research papers of his expeditions. Such was his fame that when the colonists were fighting the British, they were specifically told not to harm Cook's ship.
Roald Amundsen
Norwegian Explorer
July 16, 1872 - June 18, 1928
Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer, and is the first man to see both the North and the South Poles. He enrolled in an academic institution on his mother's request, but dropped out as soon as his mother passed away. He had the itch to explore, and hence, he joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition.

He with his crew are the first people to traverse the Northwest Passage―the passage that connects Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. He learned important lessons from this expedition; most importantly, how to survive in the brutal cold.

After vigorous fundraising, he undertook an expedition to the South Pole. A similar expedition was undertaken by a British explorer named Robert Cook. This turned out to be a sort of a race to the Pole. After landing on the Antarctic shore, a distance of about 3,440 kilometers back and forth to the pole had to be covered. Amundsen prepared meticulously, overseeing food rations, modes of transport, selecting able men, and the most important factor of all, choosing dogs that would pull the sleds. In the end, he chose 55 dogs.

It took him 2 years to accomplish this task. The crew hunted seals for meat and even ate the dogs when meat was in shortage. This unsentimental ruthless focus was the factor why Amundsen won the race.

Why He is Awesome
Amundsen saw both the Poles first. He put the flags of Norway on both the Poles. The average temperature during his expedition in the Antarctic was -40°Celsius. He made use of techniques he learned in his previous voyages and expeditions. He also died doing what he did best. He passed away during a rescue operation near the North Pole.
Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong
Space Explorers
Yuri Gagarin: March 9, 1934 - March 27, 1968
Neil Armstrong: August 5, 1930 - August 25, 2012
Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin
After the whole planet was explored, humans turned to outer space, calling it the final frontier. Although Gagarin was just 300 odd kilometers above land, he circumnavigated the planet in a mere hour. Gagarin and Armstrong both faced perils of space, which was unexplored, and hence, their expeditions were full of uncertainties. Both were experimental test pilots, and both went to places where no one had ever been to.

Gagarin had much more humble beginnings, being born in a communist country. The tough life did not deter him. He worked hard and became a party member, taking up apprenticeship. He also enrolled in the state-run technical school, where he studied tractors. It was here that he developed his love for machines. He also enrolled himself as an air cadet and flew Yak planes. His qualities were not missed, and he was promptly drafted with the Soviet army and later selected for the most elite space program the world knew. The evaluator at the Vostok program describes Yuri as an extremely driven and determined personality. He is also known to be very aware and intelligent, quite adept at mathematics and very sure of the opinions he held true. Fitting qualities of an explorer!

On the other hand, Armstrong was always interested in flying and knew where he would land up. He, like Gagarin, also took to flying at an early age. He served in the Navy for two years and flew a variety of planes. He earned a reputation of being compatible with different makes of airplanes. He studied Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University after his Navy stint and did his Masters in the same field. He became a test pilot after his education and flew experimental aircraft such as the B-29 and X-15. He was recognized for his talents and was selected for the Apollo program.

Both showed exceptional leadership abilities and acumen for flying and explored something that was guessed to be impossible to explore. The fear of deep waters and high mountains is palpable, but it becomes more fearsome when you are left in a scenario where there is absolutely no air, abound with lethal radiation and extreme temperatures. It becomes even more fearsome if it is uncharted, and you are the first person over there. Gagarin was the first in space, and Armstrong was the first to land on the moon. It must have taken enormous amount of training and courage to keep calm under the circumstances, even more so for Armstrong, where 400 million people were tuned into their radio sets, keeping track of his every move.

Why Both Are Awesome
Because they were space jockeys. Period.
Other Honorable Mentions
Explorer Exploration
Sir Francis Drake He circumnavigated the world.
Amerigo Vespucci He was the first person to point out that America was a new continent.
Charles Darwin He was the first person to explore the flora and fauna and came up with a theory that shook the foundation of creationism―evolution.
Leif Erikson This viking was blown off-course from his route and landed in North America, thus, being the first European to land on the American Continent.
Marco Polo His extensive trip in the oriental lands for 17 years gave Europe the first look into the culture of Asia in detail.
Vasco Núñez de Balboa He was the first European explorer to have seen the Pacific Ocean from its eastern shore.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert He established St. John's, Newfoundland.
Sir John Hawkins He undertook voyages to West Africa and S. America.
Hernán Cortés A Spanish explorer, he conquered Mexico and the Aztec Empire.
Bartolomeu Dias He was the first explorer who undertook a voyage around Cape of Good Hope, which was on the southernmost tip of South Africa.
Samuel de Champlain He founded Quebec City.
Amerigo Vespucci
Charles Darwin
These men overcame not only the uncertainty of the scenario of their expedition ahead, but also the fear inside themselves. Going into the unknown probably evokes the most primal fear in any person, and these explorers came out on top by conquering these fears using courage. They, thus, captured new frontiers, becoming legends in their own right.