Conceived in 1569 as an aid to maritime navigation, Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator’s “Mercator projection” has skewed our perceptions of the world in which we live for centuries. While the linear scale is equal, it distorts the size and shape of large objects, stretching the poles to the point that the projection is practically unusable beyond 70 degrees north or south.
By using rhumb lines, or lines of constant compass bearing that are good for direction, the Mercator projection became the standard mental and projection map for most seafaring Westerners, inflating the size–and potentially egos–of colonial powers over time. While it has long been shown that the Mercator projection distorts rather than projects geographical truths, it still appears from time to time in classrooms, textbooks, and a Mercator variation is still used by Google Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest and Yahoo Maps in online street mapping. Thankfully, the Mercator myths have been dispelled by the folks at Business Insider with these incredible map overlays.