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By Joseph H. Fitzgerald

De Eylanden en Vastelanden van Westindien, ca. 1631.
De Eylanden en Vastelanden van Westindien, ca. 1631.

Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine mariner, accompanied Alonso de Ojeda on his voyage to the South American coast in 1499, and his sensational accounts of the New World reached Lorraine. Martin Waldseemüller, also known as Ilacomilus Hylacomilus (1470-1521?), one of the most important cartographers of the sixteenth century, was a scholar from Radolfzell on Lake Constance and worked in St. Die in Lorraine. Acting upon the suggestion of his friend, Mathias Ringmann, he used the name America (the latinized version of Vespucci's Christian name) for the southern half of the new continent on his world map of 1507, and on a globe produced in the same year. Obviously the importance of the Italian traveler in the discovery of the continent was over-rated.

On his third voyage in 1498, Christopher Columbus had reached the coast of the South American mainland. Vespucci, however, was the first to bring back accurate information about it, and his suggestion that the newly discovered land was a new continent and not India or China soon proved to be correct.

Waldseemüller, who believed that Columbus had discovered only the West Indies, was the first to use the name America, and this term became generally accepted.

Gerard Mercador used the name America for the whole of the New World in 1538, and was the first to designate North America and South America.

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