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09. November 2007

Alcoa to help protect 500-year-old map

Alcoa Davenport Works has filled a special order that will give the company’s aluminum technology and engineering expertise a permanent place in America’s history.

Aluminum alloy produced at the Riverdale, Iowa, plant is being fabricated into a state-of-the-art encasement that will protect the 500-year-old Waldseemuller world map that will go on display later this year in Washington, D.C. Often referred to as America’s “birth certificate,” the map was the first map to use the name “America” and is considered the crown jewel of cartography.

The map measures more than 4 feet by 8 feet when assembled from its 12 separate sheets. It will go on permanent display in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the U.S. Library of Congress.

In addition to producing 21,000 pounds of Alcoa’s 6013 Power Plate alloy, a high-strength alloy, for the project, Alcoa also provided financial support with an $110,000 grant to be used for the construction of the encasement.

“This project highlights aluminum’s many benefits, contributes to arts and cultural development and furthers one of Alcoa Foundation’s strategic Areas of Excellence: business and community sponsorship,” said Meg McDonald, president of Alcoa Foundation. “Because of its strong materials emphasis and focus on innovative design, the encasement project is highlighting the versatility and beauty of aluminum as a product of sustainability and strength.”

The map, drawn in 1507 by German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller, was purchased by the Library of Congress in 2003 for $10 million from Germany, where it had been hidden inside a castle for hundreds of years. Of the 1,000 copies printed of the wall map, this is the only one still in existence.

In addition to being the first map to name “America,” it also was the first map to depict the Western hemisphere, show the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water, and the first map to precisely chart latitude and longitude.

With assistance from the Alcoa Foundation grant, the Library of Congress was able to work with the National Institute for Standards and Technology to fabricate the argon-filled, oxygen-free encasement which is machined from a solid piece of aluminum. Bechdon Company, a precision machining and fabricating company in Maryland, is machining the encasement’s metal.

When completed, the encasement will be the most environmentally secure enclosure ever made for a document of this size. Although the Library of Congress has much smaller treasures in anoxic encasements, the only other documents incased at this level of security on public display are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

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