Atlas-Inventor Mercator Turns 500
Enlarge image Gheert (German: Gerhard) Kremer/Gerardus Mercator (1512 - 1594) (© picture-alliance/MAXPPP) Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), the Flanders-born cartographer and longtime resident of the German city of Duisburg, was born 500 years ago.
He created the Mercator Projection map of the world in 1569 used for nautical navigation purposes and is credited with coining the term "atlas."
Mercator - who was also a philosopher and mathematician - was born Gheert Kramer on March 5, 1512.
As Deutsche Welle (DW) recently reported, the study of Latin inspired him to change his name:
- "A rich uncle who wanted him to pursue a religious career paid for his latin lessons. Hence, Gheert studied Latin, and in line with the fashion of the times, took a different name. 'Kramer' - or 'merchant' in English - became 'mercator' in Latin."
Intellectual mover and shaker
Mercator moved to the university town of Leuven, in present-day Belgium, where he met many like-minded individuals.
He eventually set up shop in the thriving port city of Antwerp, where he drew maps, built globes and amassed knowledge about nautical navigation from seafarers.
But he was imprisoned for his alleged sympathies with the reform-minded Protestant movement spawned by German cleric Martin Luther.
According to DW, this prompted Mercator to move:
- "Spending seven months in jail proved traumatic for Mercator, and seven years after this experience, like many other intellectuals, he left the Netherlands for Germany."
Maker of maps and atlases
Enlarge image A 1587 atlas by Rumold Mercator, the third son of Gerardus Mercator. (© picture-alliance/MAXPPP)
He settled in the western German city of Duisburg, where he worked as a teacher and mapmaker.
During this highly productive period of his life he produced major maps of the era, which he engraved onto copper plates.
As DW puts it, Mercator is the man behind the modern usage of the term "atlas":
- "But Mercator was aiming for something even more ambitious. He had a plan to describe Heaven and Earth in a way that included theology and history. He called the project 'atlas', named after a Mauretanian astrononomer. Mercator wanted to explain the entire cosmos with this work, which was supposed to contain texts about the creation of the world as well as comments on states and their histories. Mercator worked on the project until his death, but in the end it was the maps which turned the 'atlas' into a bestseller. To this day, the word 'atlas' means a book in which maps are collected."