Wisconsin Geospatial News

First map of “America” belongs to the U.S.

The only known copy of the map believed to have first designated the New World as America now belongs to the Library of Congress and is on display in Washington, D.C. Long thought lost, a copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemuller was rediscovered in a castle in Germany in 1901.

Working on the map in France only 15 years after Columbus made his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, Waldseemuller drew on information collected by various explorers including Amerigo Vespucci who had argued that the newly discovered lands were part of a new continent. The cartographer seems to have agreed since he adopted Vespuccis surname to label the area we now know as South America.

Now on display

The map is large. It was published through wood-cut printing in 12 panels together measuring 36 square feet. In a recently opened exhibit at the library devoted to the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clarks exploratory voyage, the Waldseemuller map is on display for public viewing. That exhibit is scheduled to remain open through November 29.

A permanent gallery is under construction. Funds to underwrite the $10 million price for the map were provided by the U.S. Congress, the Discovery Channel, and private donors.

For information on (and an on-line preview of) the current exhibit, visit www.loc.gov/today/pr/2003/03-116.html.