On March fifth, 1512, a boy soon to be one of the greatest influences on the exploration of our planet, was born. Originally named Gerard de Cremere, Gerardus Mercator first studied at Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, then in 1530, at the age of 18, entered the University of Louvain, studying humanities and philosophy. From there he graduated with an M.A. in 1532.
After graduating, Mercator began to have worries on how to reconcile the account of the origin of the universe given in the Bible with that given by Aristotle. Although traveling to many places, including Antwerp and Mechelen, the only result he obtained from his travels was that he became deeply interested in geography.
Mercator returned to Louvain after realizing his true passion, and studied mathematics under Gemma Frisius, instrument making and engraving under Gaspar Myrica, and learned how top apply mathematics to geography and astronomy, and in 1534 married Barbara Schellekens, by whom he had six children.
By the time he was 24, Mercator was a superb engraver, an outstanding calligrapher, and a highly skilled instrument maker. In 1535 1536, Mercator, working with Myrica and Frisius, constructed a terrestrial globe. In 1537 they constructed a globe of the stars. Mercator, from 1537 1540, produced maps of Palestine, Flanders, and the world with a new projection.
In 1544 Mercator was charged with heresy partly due to his Protestant beliefs, but also because of the fact that he traveled so widely to acquire information for his maps, suspicions were aroused. After spending seven months in prison, he was released, mainly due to strong support from the University of Louvain. Then in 1552, he moved to Duisburg and opened a cartographic workshop.
Once in Duisburg, Mercator completed a project to produce a new map of Europe (1554) and taught mathematics from 1559 to 1562. In 1564, more maps followed: one of Lorraine and one of the British Isles, and he was also appointed Court Cosmographer to Duke Wilhelm of Cleve. During this period he began to work on a project to perfect a new map projection for which he was best remembered.
First used in 1569, Mercator s Mercator Projection soon became the perfect choice for navigating. It used straight lines to navigate from port to port, and was almost perfect as long as you weren t sailing in the 60-degree to 90-degree latitudes.
Mercator also first used the term Atlas (see project) to refer to a collection of maps. He updated Ptolemy s maps in1578, and included them in the first part of Atlas, which continued with maps of France, Germany, and the Netherlands in 1585. Although the project was never completed, Mercator did publish a further series in 1589 including maps to the Balkans (then called Sclavonia) and Greece. Some maps that were incomplete at the time of his death, in 1594, were completed and published by his son in 1595.
From the beginning, Mercator was met with huge success, but also a few little problems. Other than being imprisoned for heresy for seven months, trying to deal with personal religious problems arose. The bible said that God created the universe where as Aristotle said otherwise. This personal crisis eventually led him to his true profession, but it was very hard for him.
When Mercator first published his new Mercator Projection maps, they almost immediately caught on. The map is almost perfect in Europe, which is where it was intended to be used, but not very proportional in the 60-degree to 90-degree latitudes. Navigators using the maps could easily plot a course using straight lines, and continued to do so for almost another 400 years.
After years of hard work and research, Mercator, at age 57, published what some consider his greatest achievement, Atlas. Atlas consisted of two parts: Tabulae Geogrphicae C. Ptolemi ad mentem autoris restituae et emendatae, which was the first section, containing corrected maps of Ptolemy, and the second section which contained maps of France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Long lasting effects of Mercator s works include greatly aiding the age of exploration, and helping people navigate the globe for 400 years after he first published his projection. If it wasn t for Mercator, the world probably would not be as far technologically, not as significantly as Newton, but slightly. His maps helped people to navigate the globe for centuries, and for that, we thank him.