Mercator, Gerardus

Mercator, Gerardus gārˈhärt krāˈmər [key], 1512–94, Flemish geographer, mathematician, and cartographer. He studied in Louvain, where he had a geographical establishment (1534). From 1537 to 1540 he surveyed and mapped Flanders. In 1538 he produced his first map of the world (based on Ptolemy's map); in 1541 he made a terrestrial, and in 1551 a celestial, globe. He was appointed (1552) to the chair of cosmography in Duisburg. In 1554 he made a six-sheet map of Europe. The first map using the projection (the translation of the spherical earth to a two-dimensional flat plane) that bears his name appeared in 1569. Accurate in equatorial regions but distorting the size and shape of numerous other areas of the world, the Mercator projection was nonetheless valuable because it enabled navigators to accurate straight-line courses, and has been more generally used than any other projection for navigators' world maps. In 1585, Mercator began a work (for which he coined the word atlas) that included many of his earlier maps; the atlas was completed by his son and published in 1594. Mercator did cartographical work for Charles V and was cosmographer to the duke of Jülich and Cleves. He wrote several books on subjects such as ancient geography and the science and mathematics of geography and cartography.

See N. Crane, Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet (2003).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Geography: Biographies