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Mercator, Gerardus

(1512 - 1594)

In 1534 Mercator began to study mathematics under Gemma Frisius at the University of Louvain where he learned how to apply mathematics to geography and astronomy. At this time Mercator also learnt the techniques of engraving and instrument-making from Gaspard Van den Heyden. He also found time to teach mathematics to the students at Louvain.

In 1535-36 Mercator, together with Van den Heyden and Gemma Frisius constructed a terrestrial globe though on this occasion Mercator's involvement was primarily that of engraver. In fact, this was the first time copper plates had been used to print the paper sections for the globe and consequently it was possible to achieve far greater detail than would have been the case had wood blocks been used.

Mercator produced his first actual map, of Palestine, in 1537. He produced his first map of the world in 1538 and this was the first map to show America stretching from north to south.
Mercator's plan was to produce a large world map in sections and began the difficult task of making a map of Europe in 1540. In 1544 Mercator was arrested and charged with heresy partly because of his protestant beliefs but fortunately was released after seven months imprisonment since nothing could be found to incriminate him. However, it was a setback and it took some time and a lot of hard work for Mercator to re-establish himself. In 1552 Mercator moved to Duisburg, continued work as a cartographer and completed his new map of Europe in 1554 using a projection developed by Johannes Stabius. Further maps were produced in the years up to 1564 when Mercator was appointed Court Cosmographer to Duke Wilhelm of Cleve. It was during this time that he developed the new projection for which he is most famous and the 'Mercator projection'
of the map of the world on 18 separate sheets appeared in 1569 entitled "New and more complete representation of the terrestrial globe properly adapted for its use in navigation". This was also the first time the word 'atlas' was used to describe a set of maps. Mercator chose this word "to honour the Titan, Atlas, King of Mauritania, a learned philosopher, mathematician and astronomer".

In 1578 Mercator published updated versions of Ptolemy's maps and further versions were published in 1585 and 1589.
In the 1590s age had begun to get the better of Mercator and after his third stroke, he died in 1594.
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