June 29, 2007 Construction Under Way for Encasement of Waldseemüller Map, "Birth Certificate of America"

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639

The only known copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller, the first map to use the name “America,” spent nearly 400 years in obscurity in the library of a castle in southern Germany. Rediscovered in 1901 and purchased by the Library of Congress in 2003, this crown jewel of cartography will be secured in a state-of-the-art encasement and placed on permanent display later this year. Construction of a hermetically sealed case for the map has recently started and will continue for the next several months. The map measures more than four feet by eight feet when assembled from its 12 separate sheets. In late 2007, when the map goes on display in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, visitors will be able to appreciate and celebrate the genius of Waldseemüller, who ushered in a whole new view of the world. The map has been referred to as America’s “birth certificate,” because it is the first document on which the name “America” appears. It is also the first map to depict a separate and full Western Hemisphere and the first map to represent the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water. The Library’s preservation experts and the Engineers of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) spent nearly a year designing the encasement. The planned design calls for the encasement’s base to be machined from a solid piece of aluminum and measure approximately 116 inches by 73 inches by four inches. The map will rest on a separate aluminum platform that is positioned inside the encasement base. A sheet of laminated, tempered, non-reflective glass will be placed on top of the base and held in place by an anodized aluminum frame that will seal the map within the case. The hermetically sealed encasement will include valves for flushing out oxygen (which chemically reacts and degrade organic material such as the map’s paper and ink) and for filling the encasement with inert argon gas. The encasement also will contain monitoring devices to measure internal environmental conditions. After Library preservation experts place and secure the map in the case, NIST engineers will help seal it by tightening 92 bolts, distributed around the perimeter. The seals are expected to last a minimum of 20 years. The encasement will provide optimum accessibility for the viewing public while preserving and protecting the document. The Waldseemüller Support Fund, established by Virginia Gray and the Gray family in memory of Martin Gray, is providing funding for the design and fabrication of the map encasement. The Alcoa Foundation and the Alcoa Company are providing additional funding. The Alcoa Foundation funds will help fabricate and enable the Library to incorporate the needed environmental monitoring capabilities. The Alcoa Company, the world’s largest aluminum producer, will donate the monolithic aluminum blocks from which the encasement base and frame will be machined. NIST designed and built the encasements that today house America’s Charters of Freedom  the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and their transmittal letters  for the National Archives in 2003. The Waldseemüller map encasement would be almost six times bigger than the largest previous cases for individual Charters of Freedom. Waldseemüller, born near Freiburg, Germany, in the 1470s, was a scholar, humanist, cleric and cartographer. He was part of a small intellectual circle, the Gymnasium Vosagnese, in Saint-Dié, France. In creating the 1507 world map, Waldseemüller took into account the information gathered from the voyages of Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and other unknown Portuguese and Spanish sources. The map’s depiction of a new continent between two big oceans in a new hemisphere not attached to Asia reflected the biggest change in how the world was viewed since the second century work of Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy. It represented a modern view of the world. The Library of Congress purchased the map for $10 million from Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In addition to congressional support, the Library received generous donations from Discovery Communications, Gerald Lenfest, David Koch, George Tobolowsky and Virginia Gray. The Library of Congress is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled integrated resources to Congress and the American people. The Library furthers human understanding and wisdom, by collecting, preserving and providing access to knowledge, by sparking imagination and creativity and by recognizing and celebrating achievement.


PR 07-143
ISSN 0731-3527