The New Student's Reference Work/America (continents of)
|←Ament||The New Student's Reference Work (1914)
America (continents of)
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America (a-mer' i-ka). One of the five continents of the globe, has an area of 16,000,000 square miles, and is larger than Europe and Africa together. Its extreme length from the northern limit of Alaska to the south end of Patagonia is 8,700 miles, or, including the Arctic Islands on the north and Tierra del Fuego on the south, 9,600 miles. Its greatest width is over 3,000 miles. The isthmus of Panama, but twenty-eight miles wide at its narrowest point, separates the continent into North America and South America, and each of these is known as a continent.
These two continents are similar in physical characteristics. Each is a triangle, broadest at the north, and the trend of the western coast of each is directly southeast. Each has a vast mountain range on the western coast, a lower and less continuous range in the eastern section, with a wide central region of plains. Each is drained by three great river systems.
- 1 North America
- 2 Central America
- 3 South America
- 4 Notes
North America is larger than South America, having an area of 8,700,000 square miles. On the northeast is Hudson Bay, and on the eastern coast are the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the Bay of Fundy, Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Honduras, with other smaller indentations, affording ample and safe harbors. The western coast has few inlets, the most important being San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and the Gulf of California.
Surface and Drainage.
On the western side is the great Rocky Mountain range, running the whole length of the continent. Besides the main Rocky Mountain range, called Sierra Madre in Mexico, are parallel ridges, the Coast, Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges. This vast system of mountain ranges and high plateaus has an extreme breadth of 1,000 miles. Between the main range and the Sierra Nevadas, lies a high table land called the Great Basin, which includes Utah, Nevada and parts of Arizona and New Mexico. The highest peaks are, in Alaska, Mount McKinley, 20,464 feet, Mount Saint Elias, 18,024 feet, Mount Wrangell, 17,524 feet; in the Sierra Nevada range, Mount Whitney, 14,898 feet; in the Cascade range, Mount Shasta 14,510 feet, Mount Rainer or Tacoma, 14,526 feet; in Mexico, Orizaba, 18,250 feet, and Popocatapetl, 17,520 feet.
On the east coast is the Appalachian range, which is lower than the Rockies and runs parallel to the Atlantic, but further from the coast line. Appearing first in the Wotcish ridge of Labrador, it extends to the table lands of Alabama. The White Mountains, Adirondacks, Allegheny and Blue Ridge Ranges belong to this system. Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, 6,688 feet, and Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, 6,293 feet, are the highest peaks.
Between these two mountain systems is the great central plain, stretching from the Arctic Sea to the Gulf of Mexico. The eastern and southern portions of this great plain are, or originally were, heavily timbered. The central portion on both sides of the Mississippi and stretching west to the higher planes of the Rocky Mountain system is the great prairie country, level or slightly rolling, nearly treeless, with a deep and wonderfully fertile soil. East of the Appalachian range is a region of hills and valleys, known as the Piedmont region, sloping down to a wide coastal plain, with low, swampy lands on some portions of the coast. On the Pacific Coast is a narrower but rich and productive region, rising to the western slopes of the mountains, and running through California, Oregon and Washington up into British Columbia.
The southern end of the continent through Mexico is chiefly a great tableland, reaching an elevation of 8,000 feet, dropping abruptly on the east to the Gulf of Mexico, and sloping more gradually to the Pacific. A low level is reached at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The greater part of Central America, including Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador and northern Nicaragua, is mountainous, sinking in southern Nicaragua to 100 feet above sea level, where is Lake Nicaragua.
Animal and Vegetable Life.
The animals of North America possess hardly a feature in common with those of South America. In many respects they stand closely related to those of northern Asia. Among distinctly North American animals are the alligator, bison or buffalo, beaver, Eskimo dog, grizzly bear, moose, muskox, puma or panther, rattlesnake, reindeer and white mountain-goat. There are also black, thrown and polar bears, deer, the wolf, fox, raccoon, opossum, prairie dog, otter, marten, lynx, badger, and many other animals, which are similar to those of Europe and Asia.
Of birds and wild fowl more than 2,000 varieties have been catalogued. Among the larger kinds are the eagle, vulture, turkey buzzard, hawk, crow, wild turkey, heron, flamingo crane, wild goose, crane and pelican.
Specific trees include the boxwood, cypress, hickory, magnolia, mahogany, palmetto, pecan, redwood, sequoia. There are also vast forests of pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, cedar, as well as oak, ash, maple and many other varieties of hard wood. Of plants and vegetables, cotton, cactus, maize, orchids, peppers, pineapples, plaintains, potatoes, sugarcane and yams are natives of America, and here are the great grain fields of the world.
Stretching as it does from the arctic to the tropical zone, North America presents every variety of climate. In the extreme north the ground remains frozen through the year, the short summer sufficing to warm the surface and produce a meager vegetation. The temperate region is subject to wide ranges of temperature, giving four seasons, a frigid winter, mild spring and autumn and a hot summer, while the southern portion presents the usual characteristics of the tropics. Moreover, the temperature on the Atlantic coast and the interior is more variable than on the Pacific coast, where the climate is modified and made equable by the warm winds from the Pacific. The climate of the western coast is more like that of the western coast of Europe.
The rainfall is heaviest on the Gulf coast and lower Mississippi Valley, where the south winds bring in the moisture-laden air from the Gulf; and on the more Northern, Pacific coast, where the prevailing winds are from the ocean. On the Atlantic and westward to the upper Mississippi Valley and north of the great lakes, the rainfall is ample for vegetation, while east of the Rocky Mountains, remote from the Gulf, and on the lower Pacific coast, there are large semi-arid areas.
North America is rich in minerals. Immense deposits of gold, silver and copper are found in the Rocky Mountain range, from Alaska, through Mexico, and rich but less extensive fields in other parts of the continent. North America stands first of the continents in the production of silver, and second and nearly equal to Africa in the production of gold. The United States alone, in 1906, produced more than one third of the world's coal, more than half the world's copper and almost one half the world's iron. Excepting tin, all the important minerals are found in abundance.
When America was discovered by Europeans it was peopled by a savage race, who were named Indians because the land was then supposed to be a part of India. In the north these were roving tribes, living chiefly by hunting and fishing. In Mexico were found the Aztecs, who had been preceded by the Toltecs, and these were more civilized than the tribes of the north. These people receded before the advance of the white race, and are now few in number and confined to circumscribed limits or reservations. The early emigrants to America were chiefly English, Who settled in the United States, French, who entered Canada, and Spanish, who occupied Mexico and Central America. The present population is made up of descendants of these colonists and of later emigrants from every European nation and some from Asia, together with Negroes, who were introduced as slaves.
The political divisions of North America are the United States, the Dominion of Canada, Newfoundland, Mexico and the Central American States. Canada occupies almost the whole of the continent north of the great lakes and lat. 49° N. The territory of the United States extends from the British possessions to Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Alaska Territory, belonging to the United States, occupies the northwest corner of the continent. The republican form of government prevails everywhere, except in the British dominions. The areas and population are as follows:
|Area, sq. miles||Pop.|
|British America (including Newfoundland)||3,729,665||7,319,400|
|United States (including Alaska)||3,617,673||92,036,622|
|Central American States||207,474||4,803,487|
The history of America begins in 1492, when Christopher Columbus sighted the West Indies, probably Watling's island, in the Bahamas. We know that 500 years before Columbus there were Norse colonies in Greenland and on the continent further south, which were altogether forgotten at the beginning of the 16th century. The belief that the natives of the continent came from China is gaining some credence, though little definitely is really known. However, it is generally held that the native peoples of the two Americas alike are all of one race. The natives were called Indians, as the continent was supposed to be a part of Asia. It was named in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine, who first sailed for the western hemisphere, in 1499.
The southern end of North America, lying between Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific. In geological formation, it differs from North and South America, and appears to belong to a different system, related to the West Indies, the mountain folds having an east and west trend, and apparently having no connection or relation to the Rocky Mountain and Andean systems of North and South America. Its length is 1,280 miles and maximum breadth 315 miles, dwindling to 28 miles at the Isthmus of Panama. The area is 207,474 square miles, and the population about 4,803,487, Panama included.
At Tehuantepec, Mex., is a broad plain. In northern Guatemala the mountains begin, close to the Pacific, extending through Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Not of great height, they consist of detached ranges with volcanic peaks, some of which are active. Then comes the depression nearly filled by Lake Nicaragua, the largest inland body of water south of the great lakes. In Costa Rica highlands follow. Panama is a low plateau. The rivers flow mostly into the Gulf and the Caribbean. The climate is tropic and pestilential on the shores and along the streams, but moderate and healthful on the uplands. The rainfall is enormous, 200 inches at Panama, and creates heavy vegetation.
Animal and Vegetable Life.
The animals of Central America are those of South America. There are heavy forests which are rich in mahogany and other valuable woods. The chief products are fruits, coffee, rubber, sugar, indigo and tobacco; corn, wheat and rice are grown to some extent. Mineral resources are great, including gold, silver, platinum, copper, lead, iron and zinc.
Central America was the home of the Aztecs, and is rich in remains of this ancient civilization. The present inhabitants are Creoles or Spanish-speaking whites, Indians, Negroes and mixed races.
These include Belize (British Honduras), Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Salvador. Belize is a British possession, the remaining states independent republics.
The coast of Central America was visited by Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1500,. and by Columbus in 1502. It was invaded by Cortez in 1524. Guatemala and Salvador were held by Alvarado, second in command to Cortez. For three centuries the country was under Spanish rule and subject to frequent disturbances and harsh conditions. Independence was achieved in 1821, and in 1823 a republic was formed by the union of the five provinces. Slavery was abolished in 1824, but after dissensions and civil war the republic was dissolved in 1838. The progress of the country has since been retarded by frequent wars and revolutions. In 1907 a meeting of delegates from all the states was held in Washington, U. S. A., and an agreement was made that all differences which may occur shall be submitted to a peace-court at Costa Rica.
It is important to remember that South America is southeast of North America. The entire southern continent lies east of Florida, and three-fourths of its western coast lies east of New York. Its easternmost point is nearer to Africa than is its northern coast to New Orleans. Its length is 4,500 miles, greatest breadth 3,200 miles, area 7,300,000 square miles and population about 40,000,000. It is a triangle with its base on the north, and dwindling to a point at Cape Horn on the south. Its coast-line is for the most part unbroken, the important inlets being on the north the Gulf of Venezuela, on the northeast the mouth of the Amazon, on the east the Bay of All Saints, Bay of Rio de Janeiro, the mouth of the Plata, Bahia Blanca, Gulf of San Matias and Bay of San George; on the west line there is no important break in the coast-line, but several small bays which afford harbors.
Surface and Drainage.
A commanding physical feature of the continent is the mighty Andean Mountain range which traverses its entire length on the western coast, with a mean height of 12,000 feet, a breadth varying from 40 to over 300 miles, covering more than one million square miles, numbering scores of active volcanoes, and towering at Mt. Aconcagua to 24,000 feet, the highest point on the western hemisphere. In the heart of the continent it divides into two ranges, inclosing the high plateau of Bolivia, the second largest and most elevated table land in the world, with an elevation of 13,000 feet and an area of more than 40,000 square miles. This tremendous mountain wall dominates the rainfall and largely influences the climate and the productive value of almost the entire area of the continent. Lower lateral ranges run through Venezuela and the Guianas, and in eastern Brazil are several .parallel ranges with intervening highlands.
Within these bordering mountain ranges the center of the continent is a vast region of plains and valleys, sloping up to the Andes and stretching down through the rich pampas of Argentina to the gravelly plains of Patagonia.
The continent is drained by three vast river systems, the Amazon, the Orinoco and the Plata. As drainage systems and navigable water-ways they have no parallel, affording over 50,000 miles of navigable waters. The Amazon discharges more water than Asia's eight largest rivers. In its valley of 2,500,000 sq. miles is a vast, almost impenetrable forest. It is connected with the Orinoco indirectly by a sometimes navigable channel. The Plata system, in its northernmost feeders, lies but three miles from southern tributaries of the Amazon, and a canal would provide unbroken inland navigation from the mouth of the Amazon to the mouth of the Plata. Another, around rapids in the Orinoco, would pass boats from Venezuela to Uruguay. These rivers form nature's highroads from the Atlantic to the Andes. The great lake is Titicaca in Bolivia, 12,645 feet above tidewater and about 1,800 miles in area.
Climate and Rainfall.
South America experiences less variation in temperature than North America. Three fourths of its area, including the most fertile districts, lie within the tropics, about one fourth in the temperate zone. The tropic regions east of the Andes receive heavy rains in the long wet season, and have high temperatures, but the western coast between Panama and Chile is a burning desert. The Andes on their sunset slopes make climates of their own, differences in altitudes, even in the tropics, creating warm, temperate and frigid zones.
It is important to note that while in North America the heaviest rainfall is on and near the sea coast, in South America it is heaviest in the interior of the continent, remote from the sea. The trade winds carry the warm moisture-laden air inland from the Atlantic, until, cooled by contact with the foot-hills of the Andes, heavy precipitation occurs, and, passing on, the remaining vapor falls in snow on the summits of the range, the winds falling on the western slope cool and dry. Thus the western coast-line north of latitude 30° is practically rainless, there being points where no rain has fallen for many years, while on the eastern slopes of the Andes the rains are tremendous. The rivers of the western coast are small shallow streams, while east of the Andes the rivers become streams of great volume near their source, and furnish commercial highways thousands of miles inland from the sea.
Animal and Vegetable Life.
The variations in elevation and rainfall result in a wide range of products. In the tropical valleys, under the influence of heat and moisture, vegetation is riotously luxuriant. Forests, especially in the Amazon valley, are so dense as to be almost impenetrable. A scientist who camped in this region relates that he found it necessary to have the area about his hut cut over at frequent intervals, to escape being enveloped in the rank, upspringing vegetation. The .forests are rich in rubber and ornamental woods, including rosewood, satinwood, cedar and mahogany; besides valuable dye-woods. Corn, potatoes and tobacco are indigenous, as are agave, arrowroot, cinchona, cocoa, pineapple and tapioca. The forests teem with animal life. Four fifths of the mammals and birds are elsewhere unknown. Among them are the jaguar, gigantic boas, blood-sucking bats, the llama, the vicuña, guañaco, the alpaca, the tapir and the condor.
South America is rich in mineral, forest and agricultural resources, yet none of these have been developed so as to give an adequate measure of their possibilities. Gold and silver are exported from nearly all of the republics. The mines of Peru and Bolivia are famous, and those of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Guiana are important. Large deposits of iron and diamonds are found in Brazil. (See Brazil.) The forests have an inexhaustible store of rubber and valuable woods. Brazil furnishes 65% of the world's coffee and more than half the world's rubber; the wheat of Argentina is a large item in the world's commerce.
These belong to the white, red and black races, and include hybrid races. The white inhabitants consist in large part of Spanish and Portuguese Creoles, American descendants of European settlers, though the British, Dutch and French are present. Argentina and Brazil have hundreds of thousands of German, Italian and Polish colonists. The red men or Indians are the aborigines, and the ancestors of some of these originated native civilizations. The blacks are the descendants of slaves imported from Africa, but slavery has nominally ceased. Chinese and Hindu coolies are present in considerable numbers.
South America comprises the republics of Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, besides the colonies of British, French and Dutch Guiana and the Falkland Islands (British). The areas and populations are as follows:
|Area, sq. m.||Pop.|
The history of the continent falls into two eras—that before and that since Columbus discovered South America (1498). The Peruvian or Inca Indians had advanced far in culture and empire-building, but Pizarro (1531) conquered and destroyed their civilization. The history during the sixteenth century is a record of exploration and invasion. As early as 1550 the contour of the continent was determined, the country penetrated to the core and European power established. Spanish activity included far the greater part of the habitable area, Portuguese colonization confining itself to Brazil. Portugal and Spain for three centuries failed to treat their possessions sagaciously or generously, exploiting the colonists as badly as the natives and the resources. Between 1605 and 1767 the Jesuits civilized the Indians of Paraguay. During 1776–1811 colonial loyalty to Spain was everywhere weakened. In 1810–25 came the heroic age. Bolivar, San Martin and Sucré freed Buenos Aires, Chile, New Granada (now Colombia), Quito (now Ecuador), Paraguay and Peru, while Brazil became independent peacefully. Monroe, in 1823, enunciated the doctrine that Europe should in no way attempt to control the destiny of South America. During 1825–75 the Spanish Americans suffered greatly, the Brazilians slightly, from civil and foreign wars, but about 1877 an era of progress opened. Our Centennial and Columbian Expositions fostered aspirations for peace and prosperity. Secretary Blaine, President Cleveland and Secretary Root strengthened political friendship between Latin America and the United States—the first (1881 and 1889) by Pan-American congresses, the second (1896) by forcing Britain to arbitrate the Guiana disagreement with Venezuela, the third (1907) by visiting the southern republics. They participated honorably in the Hague peace-conferences of 1890 and 1907. Argentina, Brazil and Chile have progressed materially.
- "Our southern neighbors in this Hemisphere," says Director General Barrett of the Pan American Union, "will enjoy, because of the opening of the Panama canal, the greatest material, commercial, and economic development which any group of nations has ever experienced in the history of the world."