Western Hemisphere of 1507 Waldseemüller World Map

Western Hemisphere of 1507 Waldseemüller World Map
Universalis Cosmographia Secundum Ptholomaei Traditionem et Americi Vespucii Alioru[m]que Lustrationes, St. Dié, 1507

Recognizing and Naming America

Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map grew out of an ambitious project in St. Dié, near Strasbourg, France, during the first decade of the sixteenth century, to document and update new geographic knowledge derived from the discoveries of the late fifteenth and the first years of the sixteenth centuries. Waldseemüller’s large world map was the most exciting product of that research effort, and included data gathered during Amerigo Vespucci’s voyages of 1501-1502 to the New World. Waldseemüller christened the new lands “America” in recognition of Vespucci ’s understanding that a new continent had been uncovered as a result of the voyages of Columbus and other explorers in the late fifteenth century. This is the only known surviving copy of the first printed edition of the map, which, it is believed, consisted of 1,000 copies.

Waldseemüller’s map supported Vespucci’s revolutionary concept by portraying the New World as a separate continent, which until then was unknown to the Europeans. It was the first map, printed or manuscript, to depict clearly a separate Western Hemisphere, with the Pacific as a separate ocean. The map represented a huge leap forward in knowledge, recognizing the newly found American landmass and forever changing the European understanding of a world divided into only three parts—Europe, Asia, and Africa.

•Martin Waldseemüller (1470-1521)
•Universalis Cosmographia Secundum Ptholomaei Traditionem et Americi Vespucii Alioru[m]que Lustrationes, [St. Dié], 1507
•One map on 12 sheets, made from original woodcut
•Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

Exploring the Early Americas

Waldseemüller Maps

For more than three hundred years the only surviving copies of what are arguably two of the most important maps in the history of cartography, the 1507 and 1516 World Maps by Martin Waldseemüller (ca. 1470-ca. 1522), sat unknown on the shelves of a library in the castle of a prince. The owner was Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg, of Württenberg, Germany. The maps were rediscovered there in 1901 by the Jesuit historian Josef Fischer (1858-1944), who found them bound into a single portfolio, now known as the “Schöner Sammelband,” by the Nuremburg globe-maker and mathematician Johannes Schöner (1477–1547).

1507 World Map: Recognizing and Naming a New Continent

Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map grew out of an ambitious project in St. Dié, France, during the first decade of the sixteenth century. The objective was to document and update new geographic knowledge derived from the discoveries of the late fifteenth and the first years of the sixteenth centuries. Waldseemüller’s large world map was the most exciting product of that research effort and included data gathered during Amerigo Vespucci’s voyages of 1501-1502 to the New World. Waldseemüller christened the new lands “America” in recognition of Vespucci’s understanding that a new continent had been uncovered as a result of the voyages of Columbus and other explorers in the late fifteenth century. This is the only known surviving copy of the 1,000 maps that are believed to have been printed.

Waldseemüller’s map represented a revolutionary new geography: it was the first map, printed or manuscript, to depict clearly a separate Western Hemisphere, separated from Asia, with the Pacific as a separate ocean. The map represented a huge leap forward in knowledge, recognizing the newly found American landmass and forever changing the European understanding of a world that was previously divided into only three parts—Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The existence of the Pacific Ocean and a western coastline for South America on the 1507 Waldseemüller map remains an unsolved mystery for scholars. In 1507 neither Balboa nor Magellan had reached the Pacific Ocean. How then did Waldseemüller know of the ocean’s existence and depict a continent whose coastline on the west borders the ocean?

The Impact

After the printing of the map it appears to have received little attention in cartographic circles even though it presented a radically new understanding of world geography based on the discoveries of Columbus and Vespucci. Waldseemüller himself recognized that the map was an important departure from previous cartographic views of the world and asked for the reader’s patience when looking at the map. In the large text block found in the lower right-hand corner of the map we find him saying: “This one request we have to make, that those who are inexperienced and unacquainted with cosmography shall not condemn all this before they have learned what will surely be clearer to them later on, when they have come to understand it.” Sadly, his radical new view of the world was noted by few references in contemporary geographic literature and, having been copied by only a few minor cartographers, it slipped into obscurity and disappeared.

Based on their reading of the Cosmographiae Introductio in the early and mid-nineteenth century, later scholars, such as Alexander von Humboldt and Marie d’Avezac-Macaya, speculated on the map’s existence, on its importance to the early history of the New World, and on its crucial role in the naming of America, all without ever having laid eyes on a copy of the map itself.

The map, which displays the name America for the first time on any map, also represents the continents of North and South America with a shape that is geometrically similar in form to the outlines of the continents as we recognize them today. The two aspects of the shape and the location of the New World on the map, separated as it is from Asia, are chronologically and chronometrically problematic in that in 1507, the map’s supposed creation date, neither Vasco Núñez de Balboa nor Ferdinand Magellan had reached the Pacific Ocean.

Waldseemüller Map

The Waldseemüller map or Universalis Cosmographia (“Universal Cosmography”) is a printed wall map of the world by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, originally published in April 1507. It is known as the first map to use the name “America”. The name America is placed on what is now called South America on the main map. As explained in Cosmographiae Introductio, the name was bestowed in honor of the Italian Amerigo Vespucci.

The map is drafted on a modification of Ptolemy’s second projection, expanded to accommodate the Americas and the high latitudes. A single copy of the map survives, presently housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Waldseemüller also created globe gores, printed maps designed to be cut out and pasted onto spheres to form globes of the Earth. The wall map, and his globe gores of the same date, depict the American continents in two pieces. These depictions differ from the small inset map in the top border of the wall map, which shows the two American continents joined by an isthmus.

Wall Map


The wall map consists of twelve sections printed from woodcuts measuring 18 by 24.5 inches (46 cm × 62 cm). Each section is one of four horizontally and three vertically, when assembled. The map uses a modified Ptolemaic map projection with curved meridians to depict the entire surface of the Earth. In the upper-mid part of the main map there is inset another, miniature world map representing to some extent an alternative view of the world.

Longitudes, which were difficult to determine at the time, are given in terms of degrees east from the Fortunate Islands (considered by Claudius Ptolemy as the westernmost known land) which Waldseemüller locates at the Canary Islands. The longitudes of eastern Asian places are too great. Latitudes, which were easy to determine, are also quite far off. For example, “Serraleona” (Sierra Leone, true latitude about 9°N) is placed south of the equator, and the Cape of Good Hope (true latitude 35°S) is placed at 50°S.

The full title of the map is Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes (The Universal Cosmography according to the Tradition of Ptolemy and the Discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci and others). One of the “others” was Christopher Columbus. The title signaled his intention to combine or harmonize in a unified cosmographic depiction the traditional Ptolemaic geography of Europe, Asia and Africa with the new geographical information provided by Amerigo Vespucci and his fellow discoverers of lands in the western hemisphere. He explained: “In designing the sheets of our world-map we have not followed Ptolemy in every respect, particularly as regards the new lands … We have therefore followed, on the flat map, Ptolemy, except for the new lands and some other things, but on the solid globe, which accompanies the flat map, the description of Amerigo that is appended hereto.”

Several earlier maps are believed to be sources, chiefly those based on the Geography (Ptolemy) and the Caveri planisphere and others similar to those of Henricus Martellus or Martin Behaim. The Caribbean and what appear to be Florida were depicted on two earlier charts, the Cantino map, smuggled from Portugal to Italy in 1502 showing details known in 1500, and the Caverio map, drawn circa 1503-1504 and showing the Gulf of Mexico.

While some maps after 1500 show, with ambiguity, an eastern coastline for Asia distinct from the Americas, the Waldseemüller map apparently indicates the existence of a new ocean between the trans-Atlantic regions of the Spanish discoveries and the Asia of Ptolemy and Marco Polo as exhibited on the 1492 Behaim globe. The first historical records of Europeans to set eyes on this ocean, the Pacific, are recorded as Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513. That is five to six years after Waldseemüller made his map. In addition, the map apparently predicts the width of South America at certain latitudes to within 70 miles. However, as pointed out by E.G. Ravenstein, this is an illusory effect of the cordiform projection used by Waldseemüller, for when the map is laid out on a more familiar equirectangular projection and compared with others of the period also set out on that same projection there is little difference between them: this is particularly evident when the comparison is made with Johannes Schöner’s 1515 globe.

Apparently among most map-makers until that time, it was still erroneously believed that the lands discovered by Christopher Columbus, Vespucci, and others formed part of the Indies of Asia. Thus, some believe that it is impossible that Waldseemüller could have known about the Pacific, which is depicted on his map. The historian Peter Whitfield has theorized that Waldseemüller incorporated the ocean into his map because Vespucci’s accounts of the Americas, with their so-called “savage” peoples, could not be reconciled with contemporary knowledge of India, China, and the islands of Indies. Thus, in the view of Whitfield, Waldseemüller reasoned that the newly discovered lands could not be part of Asia, but must be separate from it, a leap of intuition that was later proved uncannily precise. An alternative explanation is that of George E. Nunn (see below).

Mundus Novus, a book attributed to Vespucci (who had himself explored the extensive eastern coast of South America), was widely published throughout Europe after 1504, including by Waldseemüller’s group in 1507. It had first introduced to Europeans the idea that this was a new continent and not Asia. It is theorized that this led to Waldseemüller’s separating the Americas from Asia, depicting the Pacific Ocean, and the use of the first name of Vespucci on his map.

An explanatory text, the Cosmographiae Introductio, widely believed to have been written by Waldseemüller’s colleague Matthias Ringmann, accompanied the map. It was said in Chapter IX of that text that the earth was now known to be divided into four parts, of which Europe, Asia and Africa, being contiguous with each other, were continents, while the fourth part, America, was “an island, inasmuch as it is found to be surrounded on all sides by the seas”.

The inscription on the top left corner of the map proclaims that the discovery of America by Columbus and Vespucci fulfilled a prophecy of the Roman poet, Virgil, made in the Aeneid (VI. 795-797), of a land to be found in the southern hemisphere, to the south of the Tropic of Capricorn:

Many have thought to be an invention what the famous Poet said, that “a land lies beyond the stars, beyond the paths of the year and the sun, where Atlas the heaven-bearer turns on his shoulder the axis of the world set with blazing stars”; but now, at last, it proves clearly to have been true. It is, in fact, the land discovered by the King of Castile’s captain, Columbus, and by Americus Vesputius, men of great and excellent talent, of which the greater part lies under the path of the year and sun, and between the tropics but extending nonetheless to about nineteen degrees beyond Capricorn toward the Antarctic pole beyond the paths of the year and the sun. Wherein, indeed, a greater amount of gold is to be found than of any other metal.

The “path” referred to is the ecliptic, which marks the sun’s yearly movement along the constellations of the zodiac, so that to go beyond it meant crossing the southernmost extent of the ecliptic, the Tropic of Capricorn. 19° beyond Capricorn is latitude 42° South, the southernmost extent of America shown on Waldseemüller’s map. The map legend shows how Waldseemüller strove to reconcile the new geographic information with the knowledge inherited from antiquity.

The most southerly feature named on the coast of America on the Waldseemüller map is Rio decananorum, the “River of the Cananoreans”. This was taken from Vespucci, who in 1501 during his voyage along this coast reached the port which he called Cananor (now Cananéia). Cananor was the port of Kannur in southern India, the farthest port reached in India during the 1500-1501 voyage of the Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil, two of whose ships were encountered returning from India by Vespucci. This may be an indication Waldseemüller thought that the “River of the Cananoreans” could have actually been in the territory of Cananor in India and that America was, therefore, part of India.

The name for the northern land mass, Parias, is derived from a passage in the Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci, in which, after several stops, the expedition arrives at a region that was “situated in the torrid zone directly under the parallel which describes the Tropic of Cancer. And this province is called by them [the inhabitants] Parias.” Parias was described by Waldseemüller’s follower, Johannes Schöner as: “The island of Parias, which is not a part or portion of the foregoing [America] but a large, special part of the fourth part of the world”, indicating uncertainty as to its situation.

PARIAS and AMERICA, corresponding to North and South America, are separated by a strait in the region of the present Panama on the main map but on the miniature map inset into the upper-mid part of the main map the isthmus joining the two is unbroken, apparently demonstrating Waldseemüller’s willingness to represent alternative solutions to a question yet unanswered.

The map shows the cities of Catigara (near longitude 180° and latitude 10°S) and Mallaqua (Malacca, near longitude 170° and latitude 20°S) on the western coast of the great peninsula that projects from the southeastern part of Asia, or INDIA MERIDIONALIS (Southern India) as Waldseemüller called it. This peninsula forms the eastern side of the SINUS MAGNUS (“Great Gulf”), the Gulf of Thailand. Amerigo Vespucci, writing of his 1499 voyage, said he had hoped to sail westward from Spain across the Western Ocean (the Atlantic) around the Cape of Cattigara mentioned by Ptolemy into the Sinus Magnus. Ptolemy understood Cattigara, or Kattigara, to be the most eastern port reached by shipping trading from the Graeco-Roman world to the lands of the Far East. Vespucci failed to find the Cape of Cattigara on his 1499 voyage: he sailed along the coast of Venezuela but not far enough to resolve the question of whether there was a sea passage beyond leading to Ptolemy’s Sinus Magnus. The object of his voyage of 1503-1504 was to reach the fabulous spice emporium of “Melaccha in India” (that is, Malacca, or Melaka, on the Malay Peninsula). He had learned of Malacca from one Guaspare (or Gaspard), a pilot with Pedro Álvares Cabral’s fleet on its voyage to India in 1500-1501, whom Vespucci had encountered in the Atlantic on his return from India in May 1501. Christopher Columbus, in his fourth and last voyage of 1502-1503, planned to follow the coast of Champa southward around the Cape of Cattigara and sail through the strait separating Cattigara from the New World, into the Sinus Magnus to Malacca. This was the route he understood Marco Polo to have gone from China to India in 1292 (although Malacca had not yet been founded in Polo’s time). Columbus anticipated that he would meet up with the expedition sent at the same time from Portugal to Malacca around the Cape of Good Hope under Vasco da Gama, and carried letters of credence from the Spanish monarchs to present to da Gama. The map therefore shows the two cities that were the initial destinations of Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus in their voyages that led to the unexpected discovery of a New World.

Just to the south of Mallaqua (Malacca) is the inscription: hic occisus est S. thomas (Here St. Thomas was killed), referring to the legend that Saint Thomas the Apostle went to India in 52 AD and was killed there in 72 AD. Waldseemüller had confused Malacca (Melaka) with Mylapore in India. The contemporary understanding of the nature of Columbus’ discoveries is demonstrated in the letter written to him by the Aragonese cosmographer and Royal counsellor, Jaume Ferrer, dated August 5, 1495, saying: “Divine and infallible Providence sent the great Thomas from the Occident into the Orient in order to declare in India our Holy and Catholic Law; and you, Sir, it has sent to this opposite part of the Orient by way of the Ponient [West] so that by the Divine Will you might arrive in the Orient, and in the farthest parts of India Superior in order that the descendants might hear that which their ancestors neglected concerning the teaching of Thomas … and very soon you will be by the Divine Grace in the Sinus Magnus, near which the glorious Thomas left his sacred body”.


At the time this wall map was drawn, Waldseemüller was working as part of the group of scholars of the Vosgean Gymnasium at Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in Lorraine, which in that time belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. The maps were accompanied by the book Cosmographiae Introductio produced by the Vosgean Gymnasium.

Of the one thousand copies that were printed, only one complete original copy is known to exist today. It was originally owned by Johannes Schöner (1477-1547), a Nuremberg astronomer, geographer, and cartographer. Its existence was unknown for a long time until its rediscovery in 1901 in the library of Prince Johannes zu Waldburg-Wolfegg in Schloss Wolfegg in Württemberg, Germany by the Jesuit historian and cartographer Joseph Fischer. It remained there until 2001 when the United States Library of Congress purchased it from Waldburg-Wolfegg-Waldsee for ten million dollars.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Federal Republic of Germany symbolically turned over the Waldseemüller map on April 30, 2007, within the context of a formal ceremony at the Library of Congress, in Washington, DC. In her remarks, the chancellor stressed that the US contributions to the development of Germany in the postwar period tipped the scales in the decision to turn over the Waldseemüller map to the Library of Congress as a sign of transatlantic affinity and as an indication of the numerous German roots to the United States. Today another facsimile of the map is exhibited for the public by the House of Waldburg in their museum on Waldburg Castle in Upper Swabia.

Since 2007, to the celebration of the 500-year jubilee of the first edition, the original map has been permanently displayed in the Library of Congress, within a specially-designed microclimate case. An argon atmosphere fills the case to give an anoxic environment. Prior to display, the entire map was the subject of a scientific analysis project using hyperspectral imaging with an advanced LED camera and illumination system to address preservation storage and display issues.

In 2005 the Waldseemüller map was nominated by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington for inscription on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register and was inscribed on the register that same year.

Nunn’s Analysis

The geographers of Italy and Germany, like Martin Waldseemüller and his colleagues, were exponents of a theoretical geography, or cosmography. This means they appealed to theory where their knowledge of the American and Asiatic geography was lacking. That practice differed from the official Portuguese and Spanish cartographers, who omitted from their maps all unexplored coastlines.

The second century Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy had believed that the known world extended over 180 degrees of longitude from the prime meridian of the Fortunate Isles (possibly the Canary Islands) to the city of Cattigara in southeastern Asia. (In fact, the difference in longitude between the Canaries, at 16°W, and Cattigara, at 105°E, is just 121°.) He had also thought that the Indian Ocean was completely surrounded by land. Marco Polo demonstrated that an ocean lay east of Asia and was connected with the Indian Ocean. Hence, on the globe made by Martin Behaim in 1492, which combined the geography of Ptolemy with that of Marco Polo, the Indian Ocean was shown as merging with the Western Ocean to the east. Ptolemy’s lands to the east of the Indian Ocean, however, were retained in the form of a great promontory projecting far south from the southeastern corner of Asia—the peninsula of Upper India (India Superior) upon which the city of Cattigara was situated.

Another result of Marco Polo’s travels was also shown on Behaim’s globe—the addition of 60 degrees to the longitude of Asia. Columbus had not actually seen Behaim’s globe in 1492 (which apparently owed much to the ideas of Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli); but the globe, except for one important point, reflects the geographical theory on which he apparently based his plan for his first voyage. The exception is that Columbus shortened the length of the degree, thus reducing the distance from the Canaries to Zipangu (Japan), to about 62 degrees or only 775 leagues. Consequently, it seemed to Columbus a relatively simple matter to reach Asia by sailing west.

In the early 16th century, two theories prevailed with regard to America (the present South America). According to one theory, that continent was identified with the southeastern promontory of Asia that figures on Behaim’s globe, India Superior or the Cape of Cattigara. The other view was that America (South America) was a huge island wholly unconnected with Asia.

Balboa called the Pacific the Mar del Sur and referred to it as “la otra mar”, the other sea, by contrast with the Atlantic, evidently with Behaim’s concept of only two oceans in mind. The Mar del Sur, the South Sea, was the part of the Indian Ocean to the south of Asia: the Indian Ocean was the Oceanus Orientalis, the Eastern Ocean, as opposed to the Atlantic or Western Ocean, the Oceanus Occidentalis in Behaim’s two ocean world.

According to George E. Nunn, the key to Waldseemüller’s apparent new ocean is found on the three sketch maps made by Bartolomé Colon (that is, Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher’s brother) and Alessandro Zorzi in 1504 to demonstrate the geographical concepts of Christopher Columbus. One of the Columbus/Zorzi sketch maps bears an inscription saying that: “According to Marinus of Tyre and Columbus, from Cape St. Vincent to Cattigara is 225 degrees, which is 15 hours; according to Ptolemy as far as Cattigara 180 degrees, which is 12 hours”. This shows that Christopher Columbus overestimated the distance eastward between Portugal and Cattigara as being 225 degrees instead of Ptolemy’s estimate of 180 degrees, permitting him to believe the distance westward was only 135 degrees and therefore that the land he found was the East Indies. As noted by Nunn, in accordance with this calculation, the Colon/Zorzi maps employ the longitude estimate of Claudius Ptolemy from Cape St. Vincent eastward to Cattigara, but the longitude calculation of Marinus and Columbus is employed for the space between Cape St. Vincent westward to Cattigara.

Nunn pointed out that Martin Waldseemüller devised a scheme that showed both the Columbus and the Ptolemy-Behaim concept on the same map. On the right-hand side of the Waldseemüller 1507 map is shown the Ptolemy-Behaim concept with the Ptolemy longitudes: this shows the huge peninsula of India Superior extending to the south of the Tropic of Capricorn. On the left side of the Waldseemüller map the discoveries of Columbus, Vespucci and others are represented as a long strip of land extending from about latitude 50 degrees North to latitude 40 degrees South. The western coasts of these trans-Atlantic lands discovered under the Spanish crown are simply described by Waldseemüller as Terra Incognita (Unknown Land) or Terra Ulterior Incognita (Unknown Land Beyond), with a conjectural sea to the west, making these lands apparently a distinct continent. America’s (that is, South America’s) status as a separate island or a part of Asia, specifically, the peninsula of India Superior upon which Cattigara was situated, is left unresolved. As the question of which of the two alternative concepts was correct had not been resolved at the time, both were represented on the same map. Both extremities of the map represent the eastern extremity of Asia, according to the two alternative theories. As Nunn said, “This was a very plausible way of presenting a problem at the time insoluble.”

As noted by Nunn, the distance between the meridians on the map is different going eastward and westward from the prime meridian which passes through the Fortunate Isles (Canary Islands). This has the effect of representing the eastern coast of Asia twice: once in accordance with Ptolemy’s longitudes to show it as Martin Behaim had done on his 1492 globe; and again in accordance with Columbus’ calculation of longitudes to show his and the other Spanish navigators’ discoveries across the Western Ocean, which Columbus and his followers considered to be part of India Superior.

On his 1516 world map, the Carta Marina, Waldseemüller identified the land he had called Parias on his 1507 map as Terra de Cuba and said it was part of Asia (Asie partis), that is, he explicitly identified the land discovered by Columbus as the eastern part of Asia.

Globe Gores

Besides Universalis Cosmographia, Waldseemüller published a set of gores for constructing globes. The gores, also containing the inscription America, are believed to have been printed in the same year as the wall map, since Waldseemüller mentions them in the introduction to his Cosmographiæ Introductio. On the globe gores, the sea to the west of the notional American west coast is named the Occeanus Occidentalis, that is, the Western or Atlantic Ocean, and where it merges with the Oceanus Orientalis (the Eastern, or Indian Ocean) is hidden by the latitude staff. This appears to indicate uncertainty as to America’s location, whether it was an island continent in the Atlantic (Western Ocean) or in fact the great peninsula of India Superior shown on earlier maps, such as the 1489 map of the world by Martellus or the 1492 globe of Behaim.

Only few copies of the globe gores are extant. The first to be rediscovered was found in 1871 and is now in the James Ford Bell Library of the University of Minnesota. Another copy was found inside a Ptolemy atlas and had been in the Bavarian State Library in Munich since 1990. The Library recognized in February 2018, after reviewing its authenticity, that this map is not an original copy—it was printed in the 20th century. A third copy was discovered in 1992 bound into an edition of Aristotle in the Stadtbücherei Offenburg, a public library in Germany. A fourth copy came to light in 2003 when its European owner read a newspaper article about the Waldseemüller map. It was sold at auction to Charles Frodsham & Co. for $1,002,267, a world record price for a single sheet map. In July 2012, a statement was released from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich that a fifth copy of the gore had been found in the LMU Library’s collection which is somewhat different from the other copies, perhaps because of a later date of printing. LMU Library has made an electronic version of their copy of the map available online.

Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii alioru[m]que lustrationes.

Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorū que lustrationes

•Title: Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii alioru[m]que lustrationes.
•Other Title: Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorū que lustrationes
•Contributor Names: Waldseemüller, Martin, 1470-1519.
•Created/Published: [Strasbourg, France? : s.n., 1507]
•Subject Headings: Earth
•Genre: World maps; Early maps
oRelief shown pictorially.
oFirst document known to name America.
oRed ink grid on 2 sheets. Text applied over blank areas on 2 sheets. Manuscript annotations in the margin of 1 sheet.
oAll sheets bear a watermark of a triple pointed crown.
oTwo stamps on verso of upper left hand sheet: Fürstl. Waldburg Wolfegg’sches Kupferstichkabinett – Furstl. Waldbg. Wolf. Bibliothek.
oExhibited: Rivers, edens, empires: Lewis & Clark and the revealing of America, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., July 24-Nov. 29, 2003.
oAvailable also through the Library of Congress Web site as a raster image.
oIncludes text and ill.
oPrinted surrogate in vault available for reference.
oLC digital image is a composite map from the twelve separate sheets.
oOriginally bound with Waldseemüller’s 1516 Carta marina in the Schöner Sammelband.
•Medium: 1 map on 12 sheets; 128 × 233 cm., sheets 46 × 63 cm. or smaller.
•Call Number/Physical Location: G3200 1507 .W3
•Repository: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. 20540-4650 USA dcu
•Digital Id: hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3200.ct000725C; hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3200.ct000725
•Library of Congress Control Number: 2003626426
•Online Format: image
•LCCN Permalink: lccn.loc.gov/2003626426
•Additional Metadata Formats: MARCXML Record; MODS Record; Dublin Core Record
•Part of…
oDiscovery and Exploration (174)
oGeography and Map Division (15,333)
oAmerican Memory (504,438)
oLibrary of Congress Online Catalog (623,348)
•Format: Maps
•Contributors: Waldseemüller, Martin
•Dates: 1507
•Location: Earth
•Language: Latin
•Subjects: Early Maps; Earth; World Maps
•Articles and Essays with this item:
oEvaluation—Waldseemüller’s Map: World 1507—Lesson Plan
oOverview—Waldseemüller’s Map: World 1507—Lesson Plan
oPreparation—Waldseemüller’s Map: World 1507—Lesson Plan
oProcedure—Waldseemüller’s Map: World 1507—Lesson Plan
oMr. Dürer Comes to Washington
oExploring the Early Americas—2010—Past Events—News and Events
oSpanish Exploration in America—Primary Source Set
oIntroducing Primary Source Analysis to Students: Lessons from the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute
oLearning Activity—Secondary Level—Technology Integration, Spring 2009- Teaching with Primary Sources
oDocumenting New Knowledge—Exploring the Early Americas
oExhibitions and Presentations—Geography and Maps—Themed Resources
oPrologue – Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America
oExploration and Discovery—Zoom Into Maps—Classroom Presentation
•Credit Line: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

Waldseemüller, Martin. [Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes]. [Strasbourg, France?: s.n, 1507] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2003626426/. (Accessed February 26, 2017.)

APA citation style:

Waldseemüller, M. (1507) [Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes]. [Strasbourg, France?: s.n] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2003626426/.

MLA citation style:

Waldseemüller, Martin. [Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes]. [Strasbourg, France?: s.n, 1507] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2003626426/.

The Map That Named America

Library Acquires 1507 Waldseemüller Map of the World


In late May 2003 the Library of Congress completed the purchase of the only surviving copy of the first image of the outline of the continents of the world as we know them today— Martin Waldseemüller’s monumental 1507 world map.

The map has been referred to in various circles as America’s birth certificate and for good reason; it is the first document on which the name “America” appears. It is also the first map to depict a separate and full Western Hemisphere and the first map to represent the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water. The purchase of the map concluded a nearly century-long effort to secure for the Library of Congress that very special cartographic document which revealed new European thinking about the world nearly 500 years ago.

The Waldseemüller world map is currently on display in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building in the exhibition honoring the Lewis and Clark expedition, “Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America.” It will remain on display, either in the original or with an exact facsimile, until Nov. 29. A permanent site for the display of this historical treasure will be prepared in the Thomas Jefferson Building within the next year.

Martin Waldseemüller, the primary author of the 1507 world map, was a 16th-century scholar, humanist, cleric and cartographer who was part of the small intellectual circle, the Gymnasium Vosagense, in Saint-Dié, France. He was born near Freiburg, Germany, sometime in the 1470s and died in the canon house at Saint-Dié in 1522. During his lifetime he devoted much of his time to cartographic ventures, including, in the spring 1507, the famous world map, a set of globe gores (for a globe with a three-inch diameter), and the “Cosmographiae Introductio” (a book to accompany the map). He also prepared the 1513 edition of the Ptolemy “Geographiae”; the “Carta Marina,” a large world map, in 1516; and a smaller world map in the 1515 edition of “Margarita Philosophica Nova.”

Thus, in a remote part of northeast France, was born the famous 1507 world map, whose full title is “Universalis cosmographia secunda Ptholemei traditionem et Americi Vespucci aliorum que lustrationes” (“A drawing of the whole earth following the tradition of Ptolemy and the travels of Amerigo Vespucci and others”). That map, printed on 12 separate sheets, each 18-by-24-inches, from wood block plates, measured more than 4 feet by 8 feet in dimension when assembled.

The large map is an early 16th-century masterpiece, containing a full map of the world, two inset maps showing separately the Western and Eastern Hemispheres, illustrations of Ptolemy and Vespucci, images of the various winds, and extensive explanatory notes about selected regions of the world. Waldseemüller’s map represented a bold statement that rationalized the modern world in light of the exciting news arriving in Europe as a result of explorations across the Atlantic Ocean or down the African coast, which were sponsored by Spain, Portugal and others.

The map must have created quite a stir in Europe, since its findings departed considerably from the accepted knowledge of the world at that time, which was based on the second century A.D. work of the Greek geographer, Claudius Ptolemy. To today’s eye, the 1507 map appears remarkably accurate; but to the world of the early 16th century it must have represented a considerable departure from accepted views of the composition of the world. Its appearance undoubtedly ignited considerable debate in Europe regarding its conclusions that an unknown continent (unknown, at least, to Europeans and others in the Eastern Hemisphere) existed between two huge bodies of water, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and was separated from the classical world of Ptolemy, which had been confined to the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia.

While it has been suggested that Waldseemüller incorrectly dismissed Christopher Columbus’ great achievement in history by the selection of the name “America” for the Western Hemisphere, it is evident that the information that Waldseemüller and his colleagues had at their disposal recognized Columbus’ previous voyages of exploration and discovery. However, the group also had acquired a recent French translation of the important work “Mundus Novus,” Amerigo Vespucci’s letter detailing his purported four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to America between 1497 and 1504. In that work, Vespucci concluded that the lands reached by Columbus in 1492 and explored by Columbus and others over the ensuing two decades were indeed a segment of the world, a new continent, unknown to Europe. Because of Vespucci’s recognition of that startling revelation, he was honored with the use of his name for the newly discovered continent.

It is remarkable that the entire Western Hemisphere was named for a living person; Vespucci did not die until 1512. With regard to Columbus’ exploits after 1492, i.e., his various explorations between 1492 and 1504, the 1507 map clearly denotes Columbus’ explorations in the West Indies as well as the Spanish monarchs’ sponsorship of those and subsequent voyages of exploration.

By 1513, when Waldseemüller and the Saint-Dié scholars published the new edition of Ptolemy’s “Geographiae,” and by 1516, when Waldseemüller’s famous “Carta Marina” was printed, he had removed the name “America” from his maps, perhaps suggesting that even he had second thoughts about honoring Vespucci exclusively for his understanding of the New World. Instead, in the 1513 atlas, the area named “America” on the 1507 map is now referred to as Terra Incognita (Unknown Land). In the1516 “Carta Marina,” South America is called Terra Nova (New World) and North America is named Cuba and is shown to be part of Asia. No reference in either work is made to the name “America.”

The only surviving copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller, purchased by the Library of Congress and now on display in its Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C. The term “America” can be seen in continent on the lower leftmost panel. Vespuci is pictured on the top panel of the third column.

The only surviving copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller, purchased by the Library of Congress and now on display in its Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C. The term “America” can be seen in continent on the lower leftmost panel. Vespuci is pictured on the top panel of the third column.

Cartographic contributions by Johannes Schöner in 1515 and by Peter Apian in 1520, however, adopted the name “America” for the Western Hemisphere, and that name then became part of accepted usage.

A reported 1,000 copies of the 1507 map were printed, which was a sizeable print run in those days. This single surviving copy of the map exists because it was kept in a portfolio by Schöner (1477-1547), a German globe maker, who probably had acquired a copy of the map for his own cartographic work . That portfolio contained not only the unique copy of the 1507 world map but also a unique copy of Waldseemüller’s 1516 large wall map (the “Carta Marina”) and copies of Schöner’s terrestrial (1515) and celestial (1517) globe gores.

At some later time, the family of Prince Waldburg-Wolfegg acquired and retained Schöner’s portfolio of maps in their castle in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, where it remained unknown to scholars until the beginning of the 20th century when its extraordinary contents were revealed. The uncovering of the 1507 map in the Wolfegg Castle early last century is thought by many to have been one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of cartographic scholarship.

The map sheets have been maintained separated—not joined, with each of the large maps composed of 12 separate sheets—and that is probably why they survived. The portfolio with its great treasure was uncovered and revealed to the world in 1901 by the Jesuit priest Josef Fischer, who was conducting research in the Waldburg collection.

The Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division acquired the facsimiles of the 1507 and 1516 maps in 1903. Throughout the 20th century the Library continued to express interest in and a desire to acquire the 1507 map, if it were ever made available for sale. That time came in 1992 when Prince Johannes Waldberg-Wolfegg, the owner of the map, revealed to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, the Associate Librarian for Library Services Winston Tabb, and the chief of the Geography and Map Division Ralph Ehrenberg in a conversation in Washington that he was willing to negotiate the sale of the map. Ehrenberg and Margrit Krewson, the Library’s German and Dutch area specialist, were encouraged to investigate the opportunity.

In 1999 Prince Waldburg-Wolfegg notified the Library that the German national government and the Baden-Württemberg state government had granted permission for a limited export license, which Krewson was instrumental in negotiating. Having obtained the license, which allowed this German national treasure to come to the Library of Congress, the Prince pursued an agreement to sell the 1507 map to the Library. In late June 2001 Prince Waldburg-Wolfegg and the Library of Congress reached a final agreement on the sale of the map for the price of $10 million. In late May 2003 the Library completed a successful campaign to raise the necessary funds to purchase Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map, after receiving substantial congressional and private support to achieve the terms of the contract. The Congress of the United States appropriated $5 million for the purchase of the map; Discovery Communications, Jerry Lenfest and David Koch provided substantial contributions; and other individuals (George Tobolowsky and Virginia Gray) gave matching funds for the purchase and additional support for its preservation, exhibition and study.
Through the combined efforts of Billington, Tabb and members of the Library’s staff over the past 11 years, the map was able to leave Germany and come to the Library of Congress.

The 1507 world map is now the centerpiece of the outstanding cartographic collections of the Geography and Map Division in the Library of Congress. The map serves as a departure point for the development of the division’s American cartographic collection in addition to its revered position in early modern cartographic history. The map provides a meaningful link between the Library’s treasured late medieval-early Renaissance cartographic collection (which includes one of the richest holdings of Ptolemy atlases in the world) and the modern cartographic age that unfolded as a result of the explorations of Columbus and other discoverers in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It represents the point of departure from the geographical understanding of the world based on Ptolemy’s “Cosmographiae” and “Geographiae” (editions from 1475-) to that emerging in the minds of scholars and practical navigators as reports of the “new worlds” of America, southern Africa and other regions of Asia and Oceania reached Europe’s shores. Waldseemüller recognized the transition taking place, as the title of his map notes and as his prominent placement of images of Ptolemy and Vespucci next to their worlds at the top portion of the 1507 world map denotes.

The Waldseemüller map joins the rich cartographic holdings of the Library’s Geography and Map Division, which include some 4.8 million maps, 65,000 atlases, more than 500 globes and globe gores, and thousands of maps in digital form. And from that fragile first glimpse of the world, so adequately described by Waldseemüller in 1507, the Library of Congress’ cartographic resources provide the historical breadth and cartographic depth to fill in the geographic blanks left by those early cosmographers.

The Library’s acquisition of the Waldseemüller map represents an important moment to renew serious research into this exceptional map, to determine the sources which made possible its creation, and to investigate its contemporary impact and acceptance. The map’s well-announced acquisition provides scholars with an extraordinary opportunity to appreciate the earliest of early depictions of our modern world. Major portions of this 1507 world map have not received the same concentrated scrutiny as the American segments. The very detailed depiction of sub-Saharan Africa, the south coast of Asia, and even the areas surrounding the Black and Caspian seas merit further study and discussion in response to obvious questions regarding the cartographic and geographic sources that were available and used by the Saint-Dié scholars to reach the conclusions that they embodied in the 1507 world map.

Through agreement with Prince Waldburg-Wolfegg and the government of Germany, the 1507 Waldseemüller world map is to be placed on permanent display in the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building. A second floor gallery, the Pavilion of the Discoverers, has been chosen as an appropriate location to house the map, where it will be exhibited with supporting materials from the Library’s collections that will assist in describing the rich history surrounding the map and its relation to its creators and the sources used to prepare it in the 16th century.

The Library of Congress is extremely proud to have obtained this unique treasure and is hopeful that this great cartographic document will receive the public acclaim and the critical scholarly inspection that it so rightly merits.

John R. Hébert is the chief of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.

This View

Sheet 1.

The upper text block on this sheet of the map mentions the role of both Columbus and Vespucci in the discovery of the New World. The text reads:

Many have regarded as an invention the words of a famous poet that “beyond the stars lies a land, beyond the path of the year and the sun, where Atlas, who supports the heavens, revolves on his shoulders the axis of the world, set with gleaming stars,” but now finally it proves clearly to be true. For there is a land, discovered by Columbus, a captain of the King of Castile, and by Americus Vespucius, both men of very great ability, which, though in great part it lies beneath “the path of the year and of the son” and between the tropics, nevertheless extends about 19 degrees beyond the Tropic of Capricorn toward the Antarctic Pole, “beyond the path of the year and the sun.” Here a greater amount of gold has been found than of any other metal.

Sheet 2.

This sheet shows the continent of South America separated from Asia, revealing a new ocean. This sheet also contains a region around the Canary Islands that shows obvious changes having been made to the woodblocks. These can be seen by looking closely at the linear and polygonal separations that surround this area on the map.

Sheet 3.

In the middle section of this sheet, the name America is placed on the lower part of what is now South America. Waldseemüller describes this region in the text on the left that reads:

A general delineation of the various lands and islands, including some of which the ancients make no mention, discovered lately between 1497 and 1504 in four voyages over the seas, two commanded by Fernando of Castile, and two by Manuel of Portugal, most serene monarchs, with Amerigo Vespucci as one of the navigators and officers of the fleet; and especially a delineation of many places hitherto unknown. All this we have carefully drawn on the map, to furnish true and precise geographical knowledge.

Posted by Autistic Reality on 2017-01-14 14:26:53

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