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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The only surviving copy of the 500-year-old map that first used the name America goes on permanent display this month at the Library of Congress, but even as it prepares for its debut, the 1507 Waldseemuller map remains a puzzle for researchers.
Why did he put a huge ocean west of America years before European explorers discovered the Pacific
Vespucci was a merchant from Florence. In 1505, he published a letter claiming that he had led four expeditions to the Americas. On the first of these, in 1497, he had visited South America, making him the first person to explore that continent. There is no evidence other than this letter that he led such an expedition. It is more likely that he accompanied Spanish and Portuguese trips.
Such a ludicrous claim should have been long forgotten. But a German map maker called Martin Waldseemüller, from the town of St Dié in the Vosges Mountains (now in France), believed Vespucci's claim. He decided that the continent should be named in honour of its discoverer, so he made up the name 'America', by converting 'Amerigo' into Latin, the language of scholars, and then making it feminine to match the other continents (Europa, Asia and Africa). The name America first appeared on Waldseemüller's map of the world, referring only to what is now South America. Gradually, the name caught on and eventually became applied to North America as well.
Cantino world map (1502)
Main article: Cantino planisphere
The Cantino planisphere is the earliest surviving map showing Portuguese discoveries in the east and west. It is named after Alberto Cantino, an agent for the Duke of Ferrara, who successfully smuggled it from Portugal to Italy in 1502. The map is particularly notable for portraying a fragmentary record of the Brazilian coast, accidentally discovered in 1500 by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral and subsequently explored by Gonçalo Coelho and Amerigo Vespucci.