The power of the Gulf Stream was recognized by America's earliest explorers. Christopher Columbus took note of the heightened current as he approached the Caribbean. But Ponce de Leon is generally credited with discovering this warm "river in the ocean" in 1513 on his voyage to Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth.
Over the next two centuries, the Gulf Stream was used extensively by whalers, fishermen and sea captains seeking to speed their passage in the Atlantic north and east to Europe.
It may have been Benjamin Franklin who gave the current its name. As U.S. postmaster general, he pondered complaints that European mail traveling west to America took much longer to arrive than U.S. mail traveling east across the Atlantic. He printed what many believe to be the first map of the Gulf Stream in 1769.
Proposals to harness some of the energy of the powerful current have been around since Thomas Edison became interested in it in the late 19th century.