It’s more than 500 years old, portrays the entire world as it was known in the 16th century and occupies an impressive 1.2 meters by 2.4 meters (4 feet by 8 feet) when all 12 of its panels are brought together. But what’s really special about the Waldseemüller Map is a single word in the lower left hand corner: America.
The map, created by German scholar, cleric and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507, features the first documented use of the name “America” for the lands of the Western Hemisphere. Today, “America’s Birth Certificate,” as it is known, resides at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., safe within a 3.7-square-meter (40-square-foot) hermetically sealed glass and aluminum encasement designed and manufactured by engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The map’s protective armor is based on the design currently used to preserve the Charters of Freedom documents (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights) for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Like the Charters encasements, the Waldseemüller Map case features a seamless frame and base machined from two solid pieces of aluminum; non-reflective, tempered and laminated glass; an inert gas (argon) atmosphere instead of chemically reactive and degrading oxygen; 92 bolts that provide a 20-year seal but can be removed to enable access to the document; and built-in sensitive monitoring devices to ensure 24/7 maintenance of the proper internal environment. However, it posed a unique manufacturing challenge for its NIST creators because this case was six times larger than any of the ones fabricated for the Charters of Freedom. The final product they created in 2007 is the largest encasement ever built for a single paper document and weighs about 998 kilograms (2,200 pounds). In fact, the glass alone contributes nearly a fourth—227 kilograms (500 pounds)—of that total.
– Michael E. Newman