America’s Birth Certificate

The United States of America has its own birth certificate, though this does not relate to a US certificate of birth.

This page explains:

  • What America’s birth certificate is
  • The history of American birth certificate
  • How America got its name
  • The structure of American’s birth certificate

What Is America’s Birth Certificate?

America’s birth certificate is, more accurately, a map. It physically depicts the world as it was known in the 16th century.

The map is a significant historical document as it’s thought to be the first documented use of the name America, where it’s used in reference to the 2 continents.

The History of America’s Birth Certificate

The map was compiled by the German scholar, cleric, and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. The purpose of the map was to update the geographic knowledge that came from the new discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Waldseemüller’s map was the first to show a separate Western continent, clearly depicting it as an island that lies apart from Asia. It was also the first to depict the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water.

The official Latin name of the Waldseemüller Map is Universalis cosmographia secunda Ptholemei traditionem et Americi Vespucci aliorum que lustrationes, which translates to “A drawing of the whole Earth following the tradition of Ptolemy and the travels of Amerigo Vespucci and others.”

Amerigo Vespucci’s Voyages

Included on the map is data gathered by Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer who voyaged across the Atlantic between 1497 and 1504. It was during these voyages where he apparently ventured into what is now South America.

Vespucci documented his discovery in a report entitled Mundus Novus (New World), declaring that a previously undiscovered continent surrounded by water existed in the Western Hemisphere.

Through his map, Waldseemüller showed his support of Vespucci’s revolutionary new concept of a separate Western hemisphere.

The map represented a drastic change in geographic understanding. Until this time, the rest of the world was unaware of the existence of another continent.

The history of America’s name

Based largely on the discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci, Waldseemüller suggested America as a name for the newly discovered continent. He stated that the land be named “ab Americo Inventore… quasi Americi terram sive Americam”, which translates to “from Amerigo the discoverer… as if it were the land of Americus or America.”

What Waldseemüller actually depicted was what we now know as South America. At the time there was no distinction between the 2 continents, and his map shows just a small arch of what is now North America.

The Structure of America’s Map

Waldseemüller’s map is the earliest multisheet printed wall map. It consists of 12 sheets in total, which put together measure more than 1.37 m (4.5 feet) by 2.44 m (8 feet) in dimension.

The world America appears in a small font in the lower left-hand corner of the map, in what is now modern day Brazil.

Today, America’s Birth Certificate resides at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It’s protected within a 3.7-square-meter (40-square-foot) hermetically sealed glass and aluminum encasement.