The Life of Gerard Mercator

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• Part 2: Fame and Fortune

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Part 1: Early Years

Gerard Mercator, the man best known for creating the Mercator Projection, was born in Rupelmonde, Flanders, on March 5, 1512. In his 80 years of living, he fundamentally changed the way people looked at maps and at the world.

He was born to relatively poor parents. His father was a cobbler (a shoemaker). Gerard was their seventh child. His original last name was Kremer, the name of his parents.

Gerard was a bright child, learning Latin by the time he was 7. He also studied math and religion. When he was older, he studied in the nearby town of 's-Hertogenbosch. While he was living and studying there, his mother died. Gerard decided to change his name from Kremer to Mercator. (It was actually the same, since Kremer in German meant "merchant," which was mercator in Latin.) Nonetheless, when he arrived at the University of Louvain, he was Gerard Mercator.

He also traveled widely. For him, this was an awakening of sorts. He soon discovered that he really liked geography. Specifically, he loved maps—looking at them and making them.

He also loved learning, on both sides of the equation. He enjoyed studying under instructors, and he enjoyed teaching university students. He got a job teaching math to young students at his alma mater, the University of Louvain.

Mercator worked with Gemma Frisius, his onetime math instructor, on a project to make a globe. They finished in 1536. This was at the time the most detailed and informative globe yet produced.

In the same year, Mercator got married, to a woman named Barbara Schelleken. Their first child, Arnold, was born the following year.

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