First World Map to Name America

Date: 1507
Owner: Library of Congress
Source Type: Maps


This 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemuller is the earliest known document to name the New World "America." The classical tradition and modern science are both exalted on this map, personified by the images of Ptolemy and Amerigo Vespucci who both hold modern navigational instruments (a quadrant and dividers respectively). This graticuled map adds Spanish and Portuguese discoveries in Africa and the New World onto the basic Ptolemaic template for world maps. The emphasis, though, is on the contributions made by Amerigo Vespucci, whose name still graces North and South America. He developed a rudimentary method for calculating longitude and his extensive practical experience earned him the position as the Casa de Contratacion's first pilot major. Vespucci was also the first explorer to insist that the New World was its own landmass and not attached to Asia at its western periphery. This notion had an immense effect on contemporary cosmography. The fact that the Americas (and Americans) were wholly unknown in either the classics or scripture would prompt early modern Europeans to question the validity of both of these ancient authorities. 

CITATION: Waldseemuller, Martin. "Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii alioru[m]que lustrationes." France, 1507. 1 map on 12 sheets ; 128 x 233 cm., sheets 46 x 63 cm. or smaller. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, ID: G3200 1507 .W3 Vault. Original Image Number: ct000725C.