BornRupelmonde, Flanders (Belgium), 1512
DiedDuisburg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, 1594
Cartographer Gerardus Mercator’s map projection is still in use today and has also proved useful for uranography.
Mercator was born in a German family. He studied geography, cartography, and mathematics at the University of Louvain in what is now Belgium, graduating in 1532. He published his first map (of Palestine) in 1537 at the age of 25. From 1537 to 1540 he surveyed and mapped Flanders, and in 1538 he made and published his first world map, based on the Ptolemy map. In 1554 Mercator produced a map of Europe. He did cartographical work for Emperor Charles V and was cosmographer to the Duke of Jülich and Cleves. In 1544, he was arrested and prosecuted for heresy, and in 1552 he moved to Duisburg to evade religious persecution because he was a Protestant.
Mercator solved the problem of depicting a spherical surface on a flat piece of paper in 1568, by using the “cylindrical projection.” He used a new way of displaying a map with parallel lines for the latitudes and meridians at 90° to each other. The Mercator projection, using straight lines to indicate latitude and longitude, was a great progress for navigation at sea. Its disadvantage is the disproportion of size: Greenland, for instance, is shown 16 times larger than it is in reality.
Mercator’s main work, a three-volume world atlas, was published in several editions from 1585 on, and after his death, by his son. He was the first to use the word “atlas.”
- Debus, Allen G. (ed.) (1968). “Mercator, Gerhardus.” In World Who’s Who in Science, p. 1162. Chicago: Marquis Who’s Who.Google Scholar