The United States of America lies in the southwest of the American continent. The eastern banks are bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and the western banks by the Pacific Ocean. The Gulf of Mexico is to the south-east. Because of the large area it covers, the USA is a very various country. It has many mountains, for example the Rocky Mountains in the west, the Appalachian Mountains in the east, and the Alaskan Range with the highest mountain of the USA - Mt. McKinley. The Central Lowlands are located in between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, and the Great Plains are between the Central Lowlands and the Rocky Mountains. The longest river of the USA is the Mississippi. It is, even some other rivers, (for example the St. Lawrence or the Colorado) used for naval traffic. Along the border with Canada, there are the famous Great Lakes, including the well-known Niagara Falls.
The USA consists of fifty states. The USA is a parliamentary democracy. Washington D.C. is the national capital of the US as well as the seat of the federal government. The head of the federal government is the President. His powers are even greater than those of the British Prime Minister. The legislative branch of the federal government is Congress, which is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although Washington is the capitol, the biggest city is New York with a population of over 18 million people.
The early history of America began after the discovery of the continent by Christopher Columbus in 1492. He was looking for a new and better way to get to India. He didn´t know that he had discovered quite a new continent. He thought that he had found a new way to India, so he called the local people Indians. The Indians had been living there for centuries before the Europeans landed. The native inhabitants derived their descent from the people who had been living in Asia. During the last Ice Age, an ice bridge had formed across today´s Bering Strait; so they crossed it and started settling the new continent. Some of them stayed in the north, being the ancestors of today´s Eskimos, the Inuit. The others spread throughout the country heading south. By the year 5000 BC, the whole continent wassettled.
A lot of years before Columbus landed in the Bahamas, the Vikings, under the leadership Leif Erikson, had landed in the place of today´s Massachusetts. The Vikings established a few colonies on the East coast, but soon they were pushed out by the huge predominance of the native inhabitants. Columbus´ discovery started a new era of human history, which helped many European countries, but also represented the destruction for the majority of the native people and their culture and lifestyle. Since 1492, America served exclusively as colonial land, mainly for Spain and France. The Dutch established New Amsterdam, which has been called New York since 1626. The most important among the settling nations were the English, who settled the east coast of today’s US. Their first colony was Jamestown.
One of the first English colonies was founded in 1607. A small ship called the Mayflower brought a group of English Puritans. They escaped from England to avoid persecution after they had had a conflict with King James I and his Church. They are known as the Pilgrim Fathers and they landed near present day Boston, on a place which they called Plymouth. Half of them died during the first winter. Those who survived celebrated their first harvest as Thanksgiving Day. The Pilgrim Fathers were followed by thousands of Europeans during the next years.