After more than two months at sea, the crew of Christopher Columbus' three-ship fleet finally sighted land. The island came into view on October 12, 1492.
The first recorded US celebration of Columbus Day took place in New York on October 12, 1792. One hundred years later, President Benjamin Harrison urged Americans to mark the day, which they did through school presentations, plays, and public festivities all across the country. The following year (1893), an even bigger event was held: the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Colorado was the first to make October 12 a state holiday in 1907. Becoming a federal holiday in 1937, Columbus Day has been celebrated on the second Monday in October (instead of October 12) since 1971.
The United States Mint took part in the World's Columbian Exposition in a very special way: it created the nation's first two commemorative coins. The very first of these coins featured an image of the explorer himself, marked with the value of a half dollar, and was made in 1892 and 1893. You can see both sides of this coin next to Fun Fact number 77. The second coin was dated 1893 and depicted Queen Isabella of Spain, the sponsor of the voyage of this Italian explorer. Her coin was Coin of the Month in October of 1999.
Five hundred years after Columbus first set foot in the New World, a series of three commemorative coins was created to honor the quincentenary (500th anniversary) of the achievement. These coins are shown here larger than life so you can see the details.
On the front of this half dollar, Columbus and his men step from their landing boat onto a Bahaman island, his main ship anchored offshore. The back of the coin shows all three of his ships in full sail.
Christopher Columbus stands on the front of this dollar coin beside a globe holding a flag as his ships sail before clouds in the distance behind him. On the other side of the coin, half of the Santa Maria is merged with half of the US space shuttle Discovery.
This gold five-dollar coin features a map of the New World being examined by Columbus—or, at least, an artist's guess, since no one knows exactly what he looked like. The back shows a map marked "1492" and Columbus' crest, the Crest of the Admiral of the Oceans, which the King of Spain bestowed on him.