Cartographer Gerardus Mercator
was born Gerard de Cremere (or Gerhard Kremer) in Flanders
(Belgium). He revolutionized geography and greatly aided sailing by developing the Mercator projection
for making maps. And it was Mercator who first used the term atlas
for a collection of maps.
Mercator earned an M.A. in 1532 from the University of Louvain (now the Katholiek Universiteit Leuven) - studying philosophy and theology. Though the son of a poor shoemaker, his uncle was a wealthy cleric who wanted Gerardus to enter the priesthood. After graduation, he traveled for a short period and developed an interest in geography. He then returned to Louvain where he privately studied mathematics and astronomy - while at the same time working with a jeweller to learn instrument making and engraving.
He started making maps in 1535 and continued doing so until arrested for heresy in 1544. He spent 7 months in prison for his religious beliefs, but was released for lack of evidence. He resumed mapmaking after his release and in 1552 opened his own cartographic shop. In 1564 he was appointed Court Cosmographer to Duke Wilhelm of Cleve. It was at this point that Mercator started to develop the map projection that would bear his name.
In 1569 he produced the first map using the Mercator projection. These are flat maps that represent latitude and longitude as perpendicular lines. While this projection makes the North and South Poles vastly larger than they actually are, it gives sailors the ability to chart an accurate course by drawing straight lines on a map. There are only four known original copies of this first map using Mercator's projection.