Famous Explorers Facts for Kids

  • The Age of Exploration was a time when more people were exploring. It is also called the Age of Discovery.
  • During this time, famous explorers became very prolific. Afterward, the world has also given us explorers that have traveled every inch of our planet!
  • Some great explorers also did terrible things. They went to places where they were not supposed to go and did things that weren’t supposed to be done, as the slave trade or colonizing a place: all happen in exploring a new land.

Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastian Elcano

The first explorer to cross the Pacific Ocean was Ferdinand Magellan, and he was Portuguese. He went to the East Indies with a Spanish expedition.

Magellan and his ships reached an island in the western Pacific. The trip was difficult because of bad weather and a crew with scurvy. But Magellan died when he got to the Philippines after getting caught up in a battle between two rival chieftains.

The expedition, which Magellan started, was finished by Juan Sebastián Elcano. The expedition ended up being the very first circumnavigation of the earth.

Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird was a courageous woman. Her doctor advised that she go on an overseas trip to get better. So her father sent her to America. During this trip, Bird wrote letters home. And these became the basis of her first book, “An Englishwomen in America.”

Bird then traveled to Hawaii. Bird also rode 800 miles through the Rocky Mountains. She, too, explored Asia. Isabella Bird wrote books about her experiences.

She studied medicine so she could be a missionary and photography so she could take pictures. Isabella signed up for a trip to India at 60 and later explored China and Korea. Her last book, “The Yangtze Valley and Beyond,” was published in 1900.

Sir Francis Drake

The first Englishman to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific was a poet, navigator, and slave trader named Sir Francis Drake. Queen Elizabeth chose him to lead an expedition around the world.

He plundered Spanish cities along the Mexican coast. This intrepid legend became the admiral of an armed fleet that destroyed Spain’s mighty Armada.

Louise Boyd

Louise Boyd was a rich heiress who had money that she used to explore the world. Her family owned a gold mine in California.

Boyd decided to start an Arctic expedition. She did not go on every expedition for a noble or scientific reason. She went to have fun.

Boyd was in charge of many scientific expeditions to Greenland at the beginning of the 20th century. She investigated botany and lent her ship to find other explorers who had disappeared.

Abubakari II 

Abubakari II became the ninth ruler of the Mali Empire in Africa. He decided to go on a trip and explore.

Abubakari II did not think it was impossible to reach the end of the ocean. Like others, he had two hundred boats full of men with gold, water, and food for many years. Some scholars think Abubakari II traveled to America on this voyage, but he did not return.

Hernán Cortés

Hernán Cortés was an explorer that was born in Spain. He arrived in Mexico in 1519 and conquered the Aztec empire. He trained his soldiers to work as a team, which no other explorer had done before.

Cortés took over the land and made it his own. He ruled the land from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Mexico City was built on Tenochtitlan and became a new settlement in 1521.

Sacagawea

Sacagawea was a woman who helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition. She acted as their local guide and interpreter for the new part of America they were exploring.

Sacagawea’s skills as a translator were helpful when they met people. Her knowledge of the land helped them reach their destination, too.

Amerigo Vespucci

A merchant and navigator, Vespucci lived in Seville. He went to the New World two times.

Amerigo Vespucci explored the coast of Brazil. He realized he was not exploring Asia, which is what people thought about it before that time. He also found a bay in Brazil and named it Rio de Janeiro.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was a pilot who explored the world. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and she had many other records like altitude and speed.

After the second time, she tried to fly around the world, no one ever heard from her again. Her plane went missing somewhere above Howland Island in the Pacific and was never found.

Howard Carter

Howard Carter was an archaeologist. He found the tomb of Tutankamun. It was the first time that a pharaoh’s almost-untouched tomb had been discovered.

Carter became famous because he found a treasure that was said to be cursed. Sure enough, several people on the expedition died from unusual circumstances within a few years, but Carter did not die until he was 64 years old.

Marco Polo

One of the first Europeans to visit China was Marco Polo. He left Venice in 1271 and crossed the Middle East with his family. They traversed even the Gobi Desert for three years on their way to China. This was called the Silk Road.

Then they visited Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor. He stayed there for 17 years! The Mongol ruler sent this man on very long trips across his country. He successfully made it back to Europe after escorting a princess to Iran.

Nellie Bly

At the age of 25 in 1888, Nellie Bly attempted to accomplish what Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg had done: a journey around the world in 80 days. First, she went from New York to London, then to France and Italy, Egypt and Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and finally back home.

Bly completed the journey in 72 days and won a bet with Verne. She later said: “It’s not so very much for a woman to do who has the pluck, energy, and independence, which characterize many women in this day of push and get-there.”

Bly was also a journalist. She looked into the lives of people who live in poor living conditions in Mexico and even investigated patients in a New York insane asylum.

John Cabot

John Cabot is an explorer in Venice. He went to North America in 1497, but he made a mistake when he found the land. He thought it was Asia instead of Canada.

Some people think that John Cabot landed at Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, or Newfoundland. Others think he might have landed in Maine or Labrador.

Cabot left on a boat in May 1498, and he was supposed to come back after one or two years. But we don’t know what happened. He disappeared, and we still don’t know how he died.

Charles Darwin

In 1831, Charles Darwin graduated from Cambridge University. He joined the crew of the HMS Beagle to survey the coast of South America. He saw rebellion in Río de la Plata, fossils in Bahía Blanca, observations in the Andes and finches in Galápagos. This made his mind happy, and he came up with one of the greatest theories in history: evolution.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was born in Italy. He had a strong desire to travel when he was young. When he was a teenager, he went to sea and made Portugal his home.

Columbus got money from the Spanish queen and king to go across the ocean. He set sail on August 3rd, 1492. Ten weeks later, he saw land because it was not Asia. It was, in fact, what we now call the Bahamas.

After Columbus landed on other islands, he went back to Spain. He was made admiral of the Seven Seas and viceroy of the Indies. Columbus made three more trips across the ocean but never reached Asia.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh was an English explorer, soldier, and an excellent poet. He studied at Oxford University and became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. He was knighted in 1585, and he became Captain of the Queen’s Guard two years later.

Sir Walter Raleigh wanted to go to North America. The queen said no, but he did it anyway and tried to make a colony called “Virginia.” James I found out he was doing this and accused him of treason.

James Cook

James Cook was a British captain and navigator. In 1768 he led a scientific expedition to the Pacific Ocean.

Cook was on his ship (the HMB Endeavour) in 1770. He traveled to Australia and New Zealand, where he charted the Great Barrier Reef. People think that this area is one of the most dangerous to navigate in the world. Cook had a map that helped other sailors find new places.

Freya Stark

Freya Stark was born in Paris to a British father and an Italian mother. She went to the University of London at 30 years old and started learning about the Middle East. Four years later, she caught a ship there.

On this trip, Stark traveled through Syria. Then Stark went into the wilderness of western Iran. This part of Iran is very wild. She wanted to go to the ancient city of Shabwa, which is thought to be where the Queen of Sheba’s capital was located.

During WWII, Stark worked with the British Ministry of Information in Yemen and Cairo. She often traveled, even at 75 years old.

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