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Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a navigator and explorer whose famous 1492 voyage from Spain to the West Indies marked the beginning of successful European colonization of the Americas. On 12 October 1492, Columbus and his crews aboard the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria made landfall in the Bahamas. Upon his return to Spain, news of the explorer's discoveries captivated Europe. Though Columbus was not the first European to discover the Americas, his four voyages helped open trans-Atlantic navigation and facilitated European conquest of the New World. He made three subsequent journeys to the New World, "discovering" many islands in the Caribbean and mapping the coast of Central and South America.

On the day of his landing in the New World, Columbus became the first European to encounter tobacco, which the local Indians gave him as a gift at their first meeting. Columbus had no idea what to do with the strange dried leaves and ended up throwing them overboard a few days later. Eventually, however, Columbus and his men learned the habit of smoking tobacco from the Indians and took it back with them to Europe. This marked the beginning of tobacco's critical role in American history.

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