America is 500 Years Old

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The Clairefontaine mill has been in production since 1858, but the location as a paper mill goes much farther back–another 250 years to the early 16th c. Paper has been produced from this location for nearly 500 years. The Vosges region has always had abundant resources for paper-making–clear, flowing water, vast forests and skilled craftsmen.

Around the time of the start of the first mill, a print shop a few kilometers away in the nearby town of St. Die was also established. This site was to become famous as the place where “America” was named.

Vautrin Lud, Canon of St. Die and chaplain and secretary of Renee II, Duke of Lorraine, set up a printing place in St. Die in which two Alsatian geographers, Martin Waldseemuller and Mathias Ringmann began to produce an edition of a Latin translation of Ptolemy’s “Geography.”

200px-martinwaldseemuller.jpgRenee II received the abridged account, written in French, of the four voyages of Amerigo Vespucci. Lud had this translated into Latin. The printing of the translation was completed at St. Die on April 24, 1507. The preface was written by Waldseemuller and entitled “Cosmographiae introductio.” In the preface he proposed the name “America,” the feminine of Amerigo. ““We do not see why anyone would be opposed to giving this new part of the World the name of the person who discovered it: Americus. So it would be called America, or Land of Americ.”

By the time Waldseemuller’s error was corrected (discovery should have been attributed to Christopher Columbus) the designation of “America” had spread. In 1538 the noted mapmaker Mercator chose to use America to name both the northern and southern continents. Change after that was too late.

Because of the decisions of Waldseemuller, Mercator and a few others, over 300 million of us now call ourselves “Americans.”

The story goes that the paper the print shop used came from the mill where Clairefontaine now stands.

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