Gerard Mercator 5 March 1512 — 2 December 1594. Flemish cartographer and geographer. Advocate of a projection named after him. Author of the first atlas.


Life and Work:

1. At birth, the famous Flemish cartographer was called Gerard Kremer. He took the name Mercator later when he translated his surname from German to Latin. Both Kremer and Mercator mean merchant in translation.


2. Gerard was born in East Flanders, which is now part of Belgium. His father and mother came to visit relatives in the town of Rupelmonde, where Mercator was born.


3. Gerard was the seventh child in a poor family. The future scientist’s father, Hubert Kremer, used every way to earn money — he was a shoemaker and a tenant farmer. He died when Gerard was 15, and the care of the teenager was taken over by his father’s uncle, who was a priest.


4. The priest sent his grand-nephew to the school in the town of Hertogenbosch, where he studied under famous humanist and writer Macropedius. It is believed that it was in the high school fashion of those years that became the reason Gerard Kremer latinized his last name.


5. In three and a half years, Gerard Mercator graduated from the school, where he was taught the basics of theology, classical ancient languages, and the principles of logic. He entered the University of Leuven which was the best university in all of Northern Europe at that time.


6. After graduating from the university in 1532, Mercator worked with his university teacher, the mathematician, cartographer, physician, and engraver Gemma Frisius on the creation of globes of the Earth and Moon, and at the same time engaged in the manufacture of precise optical instruments, as well as teaching geography and astronomy.


7. In 1537, Mercator published a map of Palestine on 6 sheets, and a year later, a map of the world, which for the first time showed the location of the southern continent, the existence of which was then in doubt.


8. The remarkable cartographer did not avoid suspicion of heresy, though not because of his success in cartography, but because he sympathized with the Protestants. Fearing for his safety in Catholic Flanders, he accepted the offer of William of Jülich-Cleves-Berge and moved to Duisburg, which at that time was in the Duchy of Cleves in Germany.


9. On the map of Europe published in 1544, Mercator correctly showed the outlines of the Mediterranean Sea for the first time, eliminating errors that have been repeated since the time of the ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy.


10. Humanity owes Mercator the cartographic projections that are still used for nautical charts, and most importantly, the first Atlas. Published at the end of the 16th century, the model collection of geographical maps was decorated with the image of titan Atlas holding the globe on his shoulders. Since then, we have called a collection of maps an atlas.


11. In fact, Mercator was referring to the mythical king of the mythical land of Libya on the edge of the ecumene. This king, who is credited with creating the first celestial globe, was considered by Mercator to be the first great geographer. This king Atlas was the son of titan Atlas. However, the two myths merged in ancient times. But who can find logic in mythology?


12. Mercator had six children, with two sons following in his footsteps. His grandsons Johann, Gerard, and Michael also became famous cartographers.


13. Mercator is buried in the Church of St. Salvatore in Duisburg. The epitaph praises him as an outstanding mathematician of his time, who created artistic and accurate globes showing the sky from the inside and the Earth from the outside. A separate inscription on the monument reads: “To the reader: whoever you are, your fears that this small clod of earth lies heavily on the buried Mercator are groundless; the whole Earth is no burden for a man who had the whole weight of her lands on his shoulders and carried her as an Atlas.”