Columbus spent two decades in search of financing for his scheme to sail westward to reach the rich Far East. However, this pales in comparison to the centuries it took for him to become recognized as a hero throughout the United States.
Columbus Day is now a national holiday, observed on the second Monday in October. For most of the 20th century it was not, but three-quarters of the states did celebrate the discovery of America as a state holiday. Puerto Rico though has its own Discovery Day which is held on November 19, the date Columbus touched down on that island during his second voyage. In Michigan for a long time, it was called Landing Day.
By most accounts, October 12, 1792, the 300th anniversary of Columbus’s landfall, is the first recorded public celebration. It occurred in New York City and was feted by the Society of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order (Tammany Hall), which held a dinner and dedicated a monument. For many years afterward, New York City was the only place in America where a statue of The Great Navigator could be found.
Credit for rescuing Christopher Columbus from obscurity and the back waters of American history goes to the millions of Italian immigrants who flooded into this country during the second half of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th centuries. In search of an Italian-American hero to tie together the home they had left and the new home found, the Italians latched onto Columbus.
During the nation's celebration in 1876 of its 100th birthday, the Italian community in Philadelphia raised sufficient funds for a statue of Columbus to be erected in Fairmount Park, home to the Centennial Exposition.
In 1893 came a glorious happening: the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, and opening one year late due to construction delays. This colossal affair drew millions of visitors from all parts of the nation and the world.
The year before, President Benjamin Harrison, heeding the request of Congress to make Americans aware of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, issued a proclamation declaring October 12 "....as a general holiday for the people of the United States." He urged them not to go to work, but to join in community and patriotic ceremonies honoring Columbus and the greatness of our nation.
Harrison's proclamation requested Old Glory be flown over every schoolhouse in the land in recognition of the value of universal education as symbolized by Columbus as a pioneer in progress and achievement. The schools were also to hold celebrations on that day. By the time October 12, a Friday, came around, Columbus Day had turned into a nationwide celebration.
The first state to recognize it as a holiday was Colorado in 1905. The mayor of Chicago issued a proclamation the following year for his city. By 1909 it was legal in New York, Montana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. Massachusetts and Rhode Island joined the crowd in 1910. All of this was made possible mainly through the intense lobbying actions of the Knights of Columbus.
In September 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt sent out a proclamation asking all 48 states to observe that October 12 that year as a national holiday. The celebration of Columbus Day is now one of the most important of all our minor days.
From about 1900 to the present time, it has been commemorated with parades, Italian festivals, speechmaking, Knights of Columbus activities, and merriment in various parts of the nations, especially in the Northeast where there are many Italian-Americans and their descendants.
Beginning in the 1890s, businesses and manufacturers began issuing trade cards featuring Columbus. These were premiums inserted into product packages, advertising cards handed out by merchants, or giveaways gotten through the mail for sending in boxtops or labels. Foremost among these were the cards distributed by Liebig Company and Ayer's Sarsaparilla. Nowadays/r these Victorian-era trade cards about Christopher Columbus and his epic journeys are much in demand by collectors.
Most city celebrations over the last hundred-plus years have generated much ephemera, including activity programs, posters, magazine and newspaper articles, and special V.I.P. tickets for parade grandstand seats.
In the earliest years of the 20th century, many souvenir postcards were published - often by local firms, such as Danziger and Berman in New Haven, Connecticut - picturing city views of Columbus statues and monuments. Especially notable are several of New York City showing the famed statue. This had been erected in 1892 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary celebration that year. Black-and-white real photo postcards showing Columbus Day activities, including parades, town gatherings, and school activities, are also to be found. Many of these are one-of-a-kind, being personal efforts by folks with their Kodak Brownie cameras. The Most common commercial viewcard is. Vanderlyn's famous painting of Columbus' landing on San Salvador. Over the last hundred-plus years it has been used by countless publishers. The original painting hangs in the rotunda of the Capitol, Washington D.C., and probably thousands of postcards of it are in the hands of collectors and dealers nationwide.
In 1985 CBS's mini-series, "Christopher Columbus," was broadcast on television. Articles and advertising material for the show in TV Guide and other magazines and newspapers, along with the promotional photographs produced for media use by the network, are of great interest to hobbyists.
The treasure trove of Columbus Day collectibles was greatly enlarged in 1992 when the 500th anniversary was held. That quinticentennial celebration generated posters, prints numerous books and special magazine editions - and even a couple of jigsaw puzzles. And let's not forget that great 1893 World's Columbian Expo held in Chicago. It's a collecting world all of its own.
That great seaman, Christopher Columbus, will never be forgotten!