Vitus Bering (1680–1741), was an 18th century Danish navigator and explorer, and the discover of the sea and island which bear his name.
Bering was born in 1680 at Horsens on the Jutland penninsula. In 1703 he entered the Russian navy and saw action in the Great Northern War against Sweden. After that war, he led a series of explorations on the northern coast of Asia at the behest of Russian czar Peter the Great; this in turn led to a major expedition to Kamchatka. Crossing overland to Okhotsk in 1725, Bering crossed the sea to the Kamchatka penninsula where he began construction of his ship Gabriel. He sailed her as far northward as he could until he could no longer observe land either to the north or east; by 1730 he was back in St. Petersburg, drafting reports as to what he had done and discovered.
Commissioned again to lead another expedition to the area in 1740, he returned to Kamchatka and established the settlement of Petropavlosk, constructing the vessels St Peter and St Paul, and sailing them eastward to settle rumors that the other side of the Bering Sea was the North American mainland (his crew included German zoologist Georg Wilhelm Steller). Bering sighted the southern coast of Alaska, making a landing at either Kayak Island or on one of the nearby islands. Illness forced him to return to Russia, and on the return journey he discovered several of the Aleutian Islands. Too ill to command (he was afflicted with scurvy) his ships had to seek refuge on the uninhabited Bering Island; Bering died there in December 19, 1741; the survivors of his expedition made their way back to Kamchatka and St. Petersburg within two years.
Text used in part from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, a work in the public domain