Point of Beginning

Library of Congress Holds "America's Birth Certificate"

April 2, 2002
This map is the only known copy of the 1507 world map using the name "America" and depicting the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water.



The Library of Congress purchased from Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg the only known copy of the map that has been called "America's birth certificate," compiled by cartographer Martin Waldseemuller in 1507.

For over 350 years the map was housed in a 16th century castle belonging to the prince's family at Wolfegg in Southern Germany. The map, in pristine condition, originally belonged to Johann Schoner(1477-1557), a Nuremburg astronomer/geographer. Long thought lost, the 1507 treasure was rediscovered in the castle in 1901.

The government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German state of Baden Wurttemburg granted an export license for the map, which is registered in the German comprehensive list of valuable national cultural property, so that it could be acquired by the Library of Congress.

Under the agreement's terms, the map will be on permanent display in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. The map can also be viewed on the Library of Congress's website at www.loc.gov.

This map grew out of a massive project in St. Die, France, in the early years of the 16th century, to update geographic knowledge flowing out of the new discoveries of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Waldseemuller's map includes data gathered by Amerigo Vespucci during his voyages to the New World of 1501-1502. Waldseemuller named the new lands "America" on his map in the mistaken belief that it was Amerigo and not Christopher Columbus, who discovered them. An edition of 1,000 copies of the large woodcut print was reportedly printed and sold, thus the name "America" endured, and Waldseemuller's map became known as America's birth certificate.

Waldseemuller's map supported Vespucci's revolutionary concept of the New World as a seperate continent, which, until then, was unknown to the Europeans. It was the first map to depict lands of a separate Western hemisphere and the Pacific as a separate ocean. The map reflects a huge leap forward in knowledge and forever changed our understanding and perception of the world itself.

The Library of Congress boasts the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of maps and atlases in the world--some 4.8 million cartographic items that date from the 14th century to the present. The Library's map collections contain coverage for every country and subject, and include the works of all the famous mapmakers throughout history--Ptolemy, Waldseemuller, Mercator, Ortelius and Blaeu.

For more information, contact or visit the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington D.C. 20540.

Source: GEOWorld September 2001