July 1, 2008 Engineers designed a case to protect the map that first used the word "America" to describe the land masses now called North and South America. The air-tight container is made of two large sheets of aluminum and a double piece of non-reflective laminated glass. It also includes a system dedicated to maintaining the proper temperature and replacing all potentially destructive oxygen with inert argon gas.
A map thought lost for almost five centuries is found and is now on display. It's often called America's birth certificate.
Created in 1507, the Waldseemüller map is the first map to show a Pacific Ocean, the Western Hemisphere and a continent called America.
"It is the first map of its kind, in projecting the world as it is as we know it now," Elmer Eusman, conservator at Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., told Ivanhoe.
But a 500 year old, one-of-a-kind map needs a special display case. Conservators worked with engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to design a unique, air-tight enclosure.
"This is a completely sealed case that is designed to be passive for many years, where if you don't do anything to it, it will be just fine for many, many years." Richard Rhorer, engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology told Ivanhoe.
The encasement is sealed with a thick sheet of non-reflective laminated glass to keep out harmful ultraviolet light. While sensitive monitoring devices measure temperature changes 24-hours a day. Special valves flush out oxygen from the air -- which damages the paper and ink -- and replace it with harmless argon gas. "The idea is to make a very good seal," said Rhorer.
The map cost 10 million to purchase, but well worth the cash. "If you consider that this map is 500 years old and looking at it, in what great shape it's still in, that's pretty amazing," said Eusman.
Safekeeping America's history with science.
A STATE OF THE ART FRAME: Engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology built an encasement to protect the Waldseemuller map, produced in 1507. It was the first to show both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and an outline of the land separating the two. The frame is about ten feet by six feet, and made from two solid pieces of aluminum. It also includes a double sheet of non-reflective laminated glass and interior environmental monitoring devices, along with valves that allow preservationists to control the gases inside the case. Additionally, the engineers designed a system to raise and lower the map for display and maintenance.
WHY GO THROUGH THE TROUBLE? This map, which marked the first use of the word “America” as a designation for the continents now called North and South America, is over 500 years old. Like any other old map, book, or scroll, it requires special care. If not properly protected, the ink will fade and the paper will break down. Filling the encasement with inert argon gas flushes out all the oxygen and stops the chemical reactions that can damage both the ink and the paper. NIST expects the seals to remain effective for more than twenty years.