Explorers

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Throughout the history of mankind, there have been several adventurous souls who set out to explore the unknown. Spirited and courageous, they risked their lives on their expeditions to seek out lands hitherto unknown to the civilized world. When we talk of explorers, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, would undoubtedly be one of the first names that come to our mind— after all as one of the pioneers of the ‘Age of Exploration’, he was the commander of one of the sailing ships that ventured into India from Europe. Venice native Marco Polo was another legendary explorer who set out to explore Asia and became the first European to meet the Mogul emperor Kublai Khan. While Christopher Columbus was the one to discover America by sailing through the Atlantic Ocean, it was Jacques Cartier, one of the earliest French explorers, who explored the region of Northern America to discover what is now Canada, and claimed the area for France. When US Army volunteers Second Lieutenant William Clark and Captain Meriwether Lewis led the Corps of Discovery Expedition in 1804, it was a woman explorer, Native American Sacagawea, who guided them on this expedition. Scroll down to discover many interesting facts about the famous explorers from all over the world.
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 1 
Christopher Columbus
16
Birthdate: October 31, 1451
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Genoa, Italy
Died: May 20, 1506

An Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, wanted to discover a direct water route from Europe to Asia. In his four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain, however, what he ended up discovering was not Asia, but America. Though he was not the first one to land in America, his historical journey began what eventually turned into Spanish colonization of America.

 2 
Marco Polo
(Italian Explorer, Venetian Merchant and Adventurer Who Traveled from Europe to Asia Between 1271 and 1295)
Marco Polo
10
Birthdate: 1254 AD
Birthplace: Venice, Italy
Died: January 8, 1324

Marco Polo was a Venetian explorer, writer, and merchant. He explored Asia along the Silk Road and is credited with providing the Europeans with descriptions of the culture of the Eastern world, which remained unknown until his exploration. Polo's travel book inspired other travelers like Christopher Columbus. His writings also influenced European cartography, which led to the Fra Mauro map.

 3 
James Cook
(Explorer)
James Cook
18
Birthdate: November 7, 1728
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Marton, England
Died: February 14, 1779

British explorer, navigator, and cartographer James Cook, who had also served the merchant navy and Royal Navy, was the first to complete an expedition around New Zealand. He explored areas in the South Pacific, such as eastern Australia and Hawaii. He was killed while trying to kidnap a Hawaiian king.

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 4 
Vasco da Gama
(Explorer)
Vasco da Gama
5
Birthdate: 1469 AD
Birthplace: Sines, Portugal
Died: December 24, 1524

Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was the first to link Europe and Asia through an ocean route, when he reached Calicut in 1498, thus enriching Portuguese trade with Asia. He made a second voyage later. He was made Count of Vidigueira in 1519 and the viceroy of India in 1524.

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 5 
Hernán Cortés
(1st and 3rd Governor of New Spain)
Hernán Cortés
11
Birthdate: 1485 AD
Birthplace: Medellín, Spain
Died: December 2, 1547
Spanish "Conquistador" Hernán Cortés was one of the pioneers of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. He conquered the Aztec Empire and helped bring a massive portion of Mexico under the King of Castile’s rule in 16th century. As a reward, he was named the Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca.
 6 
Francis Drake
(Best Known for His Circumnavigation of the World in a Single Expedition)
Francis Drake
17
Birthdate: 1540 AD
Birthplace: Tavistock, Devon, England
Died: January 28, 1596

Francis Drake was an English explorer and naval officer. He is remembered for his Raiding Expedition, a prominent historical maritime event which unfolded between 1577 and 1580. Although Drake is considered a hero in the United Kingdom, his privateering led the Spanish to refer to him as a pirate. His expedition has also had a major cultural impact in Britain.

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 7 
Amerigo Vespucci
(Discoverer of South America)
Amerigo Vespucci
7
Birthdate: March 9, 1454
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Florence
Died: February 22, 1512

Amerigo Vespucci was a merchant, navigator, and explorer. Credited with participating in two major voyages of the Age of Discovery, Vespucci's claim that the New World represented a new continent inspired cartographers to associate the name America (a Latinized form of his first name) to the newly discovered continents.

 8 
Edmund Hillary
(One of the First Climbers to Have Reached the Summit of Mount Everest)
Edmund Hillary
6
Birthdate: July 20, 1919
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Auckland, New Zealand
Died: January 11, 2008
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the top of Mount Everest, as part of the British expedition led by John Hunt. Hillary also reached both the poles. He later served as an ambassador to Nepal and founded the Himalayan Trust to help the people of Nepal.
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 9 
Leif Erikson
(First European to reach North America)
Leif Erikson
11
Birthdate: 0970 AD
Birthplace: Iceland
Died: 1020 AD

Leif Erikson was a Norse explorer widely believed to have been one of the earliest Europeans to have set foot on North America, at least 500 years before Christopher Columbus. He is also credited with establishing a Norse settlement at coastal North America, as told in the sagas of Icelanders. He has been portrayed in films like The Viking (1928).

 10 
Ferdinand Magellan
(Navigator, Explorer)
Ferdinand Magellan
10
Birthdate: 1480 AD
Birthplace: Sabrosa
Died: April 27, 1521

Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, is remembered for organizing the Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522. A skilled sailor and naval officer, he was in service of the Portuguese crown in Asia. He was killed during the Battle of Mactan. The Pacific Ocean was often called the Sea of Magellan in his honor until the 18th century.

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 11 
Ibn Battuta
(Explorer, Scholar)
Ibn Battuta
5
Birthdate: February 24, 1304
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Tangier, Morocco
Died: 1369 AD

Ibn Battuta was a Berber-Moroccan explorer and scholar who traveled extensively, visiting most of the Old World over a period of three decades. He is one of the most traveled explorers in history. After returning home, Ibn Battuta dictated an account of his journeys, which is simply referred to as The Rihla.

 12 
Walter Raleigh
(Politician, Writer, Explorer)
Walter Raleigh
15
Birthdate: 1552 AD
Birthplace: Hayes Barton, England
Died: October 29, 1618
English explorer Walter Raleigh is best remembered for his involvement in the Siege of Smerwick and for colonizing North America. He made smoking tobacco popular in England. His accounts of his first voyage to South America led to the legend of El Dorado. He was executed to please the Spanish.
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 13 
Juan Ponce de León
7
Birthdate: 1474 AD
Birthplace: Santervás de Campos
Died: June 30, 1521

Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de León was the first governor of Puerto Rico but had to give away the governorship to Christopher Columbus's son, Diego. Juan led the first European expedition to Florida. He was knighted by King Ferdinand but died in an attempt to colonize coastal U.S.

 14 
Jacques Cousteau
(Co-Inventor of the First Open-Circuit, Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus 'Aqua-Lung')
Jacques Cousteau
17
Birthdate: June 11, 1910
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France
Died: June 25, 1997

Jacques Cousteau was a French explorer, naval officer, filmmaker, conservationist, scientist, photographer, researcher, and author. Renowned for his exploration of various forms of life in water, Jacques Cousteau is credited with pioneering marine conservation and co-developing the Aqua-Lung, the first underwater breathing apparatus to achieve popularity and commercial success.

 15 
Nellie Bly
(Journalist and Writer Known for Her Record-Breaking Trip Around the World in 72 Days)
Nellie Bly
9
Birthdate: May 5, 1864
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cochrans Mills, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: January 27, 1922

Nellie Bly was an American industrialist, journalist, inventor, and charity worker. She is remembered for her circumnavigation of the world in 72 days. She is also known for pioneering a new kind of investigative journalism as she worked undercover from within a mental institution to report on the institution. Nellie Bly’s life and work have inspired several works of art.

 16 
David Livingstone
(Physician, Explorer)
David Livingstone
5
Birthdate: March 19, 1813
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, Scotland
Died: May 1, 1873

David Livingstone was a Scottish physician who played a major role at the London Missionary Society, where he was a pioneer Christian missionary. He is also remembered for his work as a missionary in Africa. Widely considered one of the most famous British heroes of the late Victorian era, Livingstone was mentioned in the 100 Greatest Britons list in 2002.

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 17 
Zheng He
(Explorer)
Zheng He
4
Birthdate: September 23, 1371
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Yunnan
Died: 1433 AD
Chinese explorer Zheng He was also Chinese Ming dynasty eunuch. He was born Ma He, a Muslim, and was named Zheng by the Yongle Emperor, whom he helped to depose the Jianwen Emperor. He became the commander of Nanjing and led expeditions to places such as Southeast Asia and India.
 18 
Sir Ernest Shackleton
(Antarctic explorer)
Sir Ernest Shackleton
15
Birthdate: February 15, 1874
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Kilkea, Ireland
Died: January 5, 1922

Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is remembered for leading three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was a key figure of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. An expert in navigation, he had also been a part of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery expedition. He was knighted by King Edward VII for his achievements.

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 19 
Henry Hudson
(Navigator and Explorer)
Henry Hudson
9
Birthdate: 1565 AD
Birthplace: England, United Kingdom
Died: 1611 AD

Henry Hudson was an English navigator and sea explorer best remembered for his explorations of modern-day Canada and the northeastern United States. He is credited with laying the foundation for the Dutch colonization near the Hudson River, which is named in his honor. During his final expedition, he became the first European to witness the Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait.

 20 
Francisco Pizarro
(Spanish conquistador)
Francisco Pizarro
6
Birthdate: March 16, 1478
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Trujillo, Spain
Died: June 26, 1541

Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador best remembered for his expeditions that eventually paved the way for the Spanish conquest of Peru. Along with Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Pizarro became the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean after crossing the Isthmus of Panama. After two failed expeditions to Peru, Pizarro led a third and successful campaign to conquer Peru.

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 21 
Daniel Boone
(American Frontiersman and One of the First Folk Heroes of the United States)
Daniel Boone
14
Birthdate: November 2, 1734
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Pennsylvania, United States
Died: September 26, 1820

Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, woodsman, explorer, and frontiersman. His exploits as an American frontier made him one of the earliest folk heroes of the US. Widely regarded as the founder of Kentucky, Daniel Boone is popular for his exploration and settlement of Kentucky. His life and work have inspired several movies, such as the 1936 movie Daniel Boone.

 22 
Samuel de Champlain
10
Birthdate: August 13, 1574
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Hiers-Brouage, Marennes-Hiers-Brouage, France
Died: December 25, 1635

Samuel de Champlain was a French colonist, navigator, draftsman, soldier, and explorer who made between 21 and 29 trips across the Atlantic Ocean. He founded Quebec and New France and is considered an important figure in Canadian history. He is also referred to as the "Father of New France." As a businessman, he founded many trading companies.

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 23 
John Cabot
(Explorer)
John Cabot
9
Birthdate: 1450 AD
Birthplace: Castiglione Chiavarese, Republic of Genoa
Died: 1508 AD
Italian explorer and navigator John Cabot is remembered for his 1497 voyage to the North American coast, commissioned by Henry VII of England, which is the earliest-known European voyage to coastal North America since the Norse explorations. A lot of statues and towers have been erected in his honor.
 24 
Jacques Cartier
(Explorer)
Jacques Cartier
20
Birthdate: December 31, 1491
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Saint-Malo
Died: September 1, 1557
Born in the French fishing town of Saint-Malo, Jacques Cartier was exposed to the world of seafaring quite early in life. His exploration of St. Lawrence River and the Canadian coast led the French to colonize the area later. He is also said to have coined the name "Canada." 
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 25 
Hernando de Soto
4
Birthdate: 1500 AD
Birthplace: Province of Badajoz, Spain
Died: May 21, 1542

Hernando de Soto was a Spanish conquistador and explorer best remembered for his expeditions in the Yucatan Peninsula and Nicaragua. The first documented European to have crossed the Mississippi River, Hernando de Soto is also remembered for guiding the first European expedition into the territory of the present-day USA. He also played a key role in the Conquest of Peru.

 26 
Bartolomeu Dias
(Portuguese explorer)
Bartolomeu Dias
4
Birthdate: 1450 AD
Birthplace: Algarve
Died: May 29, 1500

Bartolomeu Dias was a nobleman of the Portuguese royal household in the 15th century. Famous as an explorer, he sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa and set up a route from Europe to Asia. He became the first European to anchor in Cape Good Hope, South Africa, during the Age of Discovery. He perished in 1500. 

 27 
Sacagawea
(Interpreter)
Sacagawea
11
Birthdate: 1788 AD
Birthplace: Salmon
Died: 1812 AD
Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone woman, became a significant part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, helping its members connect with the Native Americans along the trail. The National American Woman Suffrage Association later honored her by erecting several statues in her memory. She finds mention in many books and films.
 28 
Roald Amundsen
(The first person to reach the South Pole, Explorer)
Roald Amundsen
10
Birthdate: July 16, 1872
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Borge, Norway
Died: June 18, 1928

Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer. Specialized in exploring the polar regions, Amundsen was an important figure of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, an era in the exploration of Antarctica. He disappeared in 1928 when he was involved in a rescue mission in the Arctic. Owing to his significant achievements in polar exploration, several places are named after him.

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 29 
Hugh Glass
(Hunter)
Hugh Glass
9
Birthdate: 1783 AD
Birthplace: Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: 1833 AD

Fur-trader and explorer Hugh Glass is part of local folklore now. After being left battered by a grizzly bear on the legendary 1823 expedition of General Ashley that was supposed to explore parts of Missouri, Glass was left to die by his teammates, but ended up surviving by treating his own wounds.

 30 
Richard Francis Burton
4
Birthdate: March 19, 1821
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Torquay
Died: October 20, 1890

Richard Francis Burton was a British explorer, soldier, and scholar. He is best remembered for his explorations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Along with John Hanning Speke, Burton was the first European to witness the Great Lakes of Africa. A prolific writer, Burton wrote several scholarly articles about numerous subjects like sexual practices, falconry, human behavior, travel, and ethnography.

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 31 
Henry the Navigator
(Portuguese Prince and Main Initiator of Age of Discovery)
Henry the Navigator
4
Birthdate: March 4, 1394
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Porto, Portugal
Died: November 13, 1460
Henry the Navigator was a central figure in the 15th-century European maritime expansion and maritime discoveries. He is credited with the early development of Portuguese maritime trade and exploration. He is also credited with developing a new and much lighter ship called the caravel, which changed the way sailors sailed at that time. 
 32 
Vasco Núñez de Balboa
(Spanish Explorer)
Vasco Núñez de Balboa
7
Birthdate: 1475 AD
Birthplace: Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain
Died: January 15, 1519

Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa became the first European to reach the Pacific from the New World, when he crossed the Isthmus of Panama. He is remembered for his long-term conflict with Spanish administrator Pedrarias, who eventually charged Balboa with treason and ill-treatment of Indians. Balboa was eventually beheaded.

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 33 
Giovanni da Verrazzano
3
Birthdate: 1485 AD
Birthplace: Greve in Chianti
Died: 1528 AD
Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to explore the areas along the North American coast, including what is now known as Hudson Bay. In fact, Henry Hudson reached the same area almost 85 years later and was hailed as its explorer, while Verrazzano’s exploits were practically unknown.
 34 
Chris McCandless
(American Adventurer Who Led a Nomadic Lifestyle and Trekked and Lived Alone through the Alaskan Wilderness)
Chris McCandless
12
Birthdate: February 12, 1968
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Inglewood, California, United States
Died: August 18, 1992

Chris McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, was made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which was later made into a movie. The adventurer had hitchhiked through Alaska, and later took shelter in an abandoned bus, where he eventually died of starvation and poisoning, cut off from civilization.

 35 
John Smith
(Explorer)
John Smith
11
Birthdate: January 6, 1580
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lincolnshire, England
Died: June 21, 1631

John Smith was an English explorer, soldier, colonial governor, author, and Admiral of New England. In the early-17th century, Smith played a major role in the establishment of the first indissoluble English settlement in America, which came to be known as the English colony at Jamestown. Apart from helping Jamestown survive various challenges, Smith's leadership also helped the colony flourish.

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke
5
Birthdate: December 16, 1917
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Minehead, Somerset, England
Died: March 19, 2008
Sir Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his short story The Sentinel, which became the basis of the screenplay of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke spent the final years of his life in Sri Lanka and hosted shows such as Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World.
 37 
Xuanzang
(Scholar)
Xuanzang
4
Birthdate: 0602 AD
Birthplace: Henan
Died: February 5, 0664
 38 
George Mallory
(Mountaineer)
George Mallory
4
Birthdate: June 18, 1886
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Mobberley, Cheshire, England
Died: June 9, 1924
A leading member of early expeditions to Mount Everest, George Mallory disappeared on the mountain while trying to reach the summit, along with Sandy Irvine. Mallory succeeded or not, it still remains a subject of research and speculation, yet he left footprints on the sands of time. 
 39 
Ranulph Fiennes
(Explorer who became was the first person to get to the North and South Pole without flying and the first to cross Antarctica without driving)
Ranulph Fiennes
10
Birthdate: March 7, 1944
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Windsor, Berkshire, England
 40 
Robert Peary
(Explorer)
Robert Peary
4
Birthdate: May 6, 1856
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cresson, Pennsylvania
Died: February 20, 1920

US naval officer Robert Peary is credited with discovering the North Pole, with explorer Matthew Henson as his attendant, though he was challenged by Frederick A. Cook, who claimed to have achieved the feat independently before him. Later, diary entries revealed Peary may have been 100km short of the pole.

 41 
Scott Fischer
(First American to Summit Mt. Lhotse)
Scott Fischer
4
Birthdate: December 24, 1955
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Muskegon, Michigan, United States
Died: May 11, 1996

American mountaineer Scott Fischer was known for scaling the highest peaks of the world, including Mt. Everest and K2, without using oxygen cans. He later became a mountain guide and co-launched his own adventure travel company Mountain Madness. He died in a blizzard while guiding a group of clients to Mt. Everest.

 42 
Pedro Álvares Cabral
3
Birthdate: 1467 AD
Birthplace: Belmonte, Portugal
Died: 1520 AD

Pedro Álvares Cabral was a Portuguese nobleman, navigator, explorer, and military commander. Regarded as a prominent figure of the Age of Discovery, Cabral is often remembered as one of the earliest Europeans to set his foot on Brazil. Pedro Álvares Cabral is also remembered for his voyage to India in a failed attempt to return to Europe with valuable spices.

 43 
Kit Carson
(Explorer & Soldier)
Kit Carson
4
Birthdate: December 24, 1809
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Madison County
Died: May 23, 1868

A frontiersman and a fur-trapper, Kit Carson played a major role in the US’s westward expansion. Mostly known for guiding explorer John C. Frémont, he was criticized for his contribution to the displacement of native Americans as an Indian agent. He became part of folk legend for his exploits as a fighter, too.

 44 
Erik the Red
(Explorer)
Erik the Red
4
Birthdate: 0950 AD
Birthplace: Norway
Died: 1003 AD
Tenth-century Norse explorer Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red for his red beard and hair, is a prominent figure in Icelandic legends. He was the founder of the first settlement in Greenland. Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson, the first Viking to explore Vinland, was one of Erik's sons.
 45 
Jon Krakauer
(Journalist, Explorer, Writer)
Jon Krakauer
4
Birthdate: April 12, 1954
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brookline, Massachusetts, United States

Best known for his bestselling novels such as Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer is not just an author who writes about the outdoors but is also a mountaineer himself. He was part of the 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest which witnessed 4 of the team members dying in a storm.

 46 
Jim Bridger
(Famous Mountain Man of the American Fur Trade Era)
Jim Bridger
4
Birthdate: March 17, 1804
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia, United States
Died: July 17, 1881

Known as the ultimate American mountain man, Jim Bridger is remembered for his exploration of the Western United States. It is believed, the illiterate fur trader was the first white man to explore the Great Salt Lake and one of the first to visit Yellowstone. He also worked as a forest guide.

 47 
Fridtjof Nansen
(Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the First High Commissioner for Refugees Appointed by the League of Nations)
Fridtjof Nansen
4
Birthdate: October 10, 1861
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Oslo, Norway
Died: May 13, 1930

Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian polymath who won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his post-war efforts after the First World War. A well-known explorer, humanitarian, and diplomat, Nansen achieved international fame for his attempt to reach the geographical North Pole during his Fram expedition. His techniques and innovations influenced a generation of succeeding Antarctic and Arctic expeditions.

 48 
Robert Falcon Scott
(British Royal Naval Officer and Explorer)
Robert Falcon Scott
11
Birthdate: June 6, 1868
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Plymouth, Devon, England
Died: March 29, 1912

Robert Falcon Scott was an explorer and Royal Navy officer. He is remembered for leading two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the second of which was the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Although Scott and his companions died during the second expedition, they helped discover the first Antarctic fossils, which proved that the place was once forested.

 49 
Alfred Russel Wallace
(Naturalist, Explorer, Geographer, Anthropologist and Biologist)
Alfred Russel Wallace
5
Birthdate: January 8, 1823
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Llanbadoc
Died: November 7, 1913

British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace is largely remembered for his theory of evolution through natural selection, which inspired Charles Darwin’s studies. He began his career as a surveyor’s apprentice and later introduced concepts such as reinforcement in animals, also known as the Wallace effect. He was awarded the Order of Merit.

 50 
Meriwether Lewis
(Explorer, Politician)
Meriwether Lewis
7
Birthdate: August 18, 1774
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Ivy, Colony of Virginia
Died: October 11, 1809

Best known for his exploration of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon, Meriwether Lewis led the legendary Lewis and Clark Expedition. He had also been the governor of Louisiana. His mysterious death at age 35, due to gunshot wounds, sparked a huge debate on whether it was a murder or a suicide.