Ringmann was born in Eichhoffen, Alsace in 1482. He became a schoolmaster and was often described as a poet.
Around 1503, Ringmann visited Italy. There, he learned about the newly discovered western lands and the explorations that took place within them. These lands were initially known as the New World, and were later named the Americas. He also came to believe that Amerigo Vespucci had discovered South America.
Upon his return, Ringmann moved to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in Lorraine with his friend, Martin Waldseemüller, a cartographer with whom he was working on a new Latin edition of Ptolemy's treatise on geography. Waldseemüller drew the maps while Ringmann edited the translation and wrote the preface. Ringmann was probably also the author of the introduction to Waldseemüller's great map and globe of the world, yet many historians attribute the work to Waldseemüller himself. Some historians have judged that Walter Ludd, the head of the Gymnasium Vosagense, paid Ringmann and Waldseemüller to do this work for publication at the Gymnasium's printing press at St. Dié.
Ringmann also may have read the French edition of Vespucci's letters, (Quatre Navigations d' Americ Vespuce). Since Vespucci's written accounts were in Italian, the translation to French could have been the source of Ringmann's misunderstanding of the accepted discoverer of the New World, as he believed that Vespucci discovered the new world. He described this in his introduction:
"There is a fourth quarter of the world which Amerigo Vespucci has discovered and which for this reason we can call 'America' or the land of Americus [the Latin version of the Italian name Amerigo]. […] We do not see why the name of the man of genius, Amerigo, who has discovered them, should not be given to these lands, as Europe and Asia have adopted the names of women."
When the book was published by the name Cosmographiae Introductio on April 25, 1507, it was the first time that the word 'Americas' appeared in print. Waldseemüller corrected the error in a later edition and named South America "Terra Nova", but the name America had now already been established.
Ringmann corrected the texts of the Latin editions of Ptolemy's geography—which had been published previously at Rome and Ulm using a Greek manuscript borrowed from Italy (Codex Vaticanum Graecorum 191.) During this time, Waldseemüller edited the Ptolemaic maps and also added twenty new maps to the collection. This was what was known as "the first modern atlas of the world."
In 1508, Ringmann made the first translation of Julius Caesar's Commentaries into German with supplemental pieces by Suetonius, Plutarch, and others. One year later, he published a card game, Grammatica Figurata, to make the grammatical rules of Donatus', Ars Minor, more appealing to children. He died in 1511 in Sélestat.
The Grammatica Figurata was first published by Mathias Ringmann in 1509. This work was an attempt to enliven Donatus' Ars Minor by printing up illustrated card sets for each grammatical rule. Apparently the children would have a card set. The rules are not explained at length, but a few hints are scattered here and there in the work. The final section on "Exclamations" has a sentence on how to figure out which student has won. Each card represented a part of speech, a gender, a case, or a tense, etc. Depending upon the teacher's questions a student would play the appropriate card or cards. Long believed to be lost, one copy of Grammatica figurata was found and reprinted in 1905. Of particular interest are Ringmann's digressions on assorted subjects, from the prevalence of gambling among the German priesthood to the reasons behind his refusal to illustrate full-frontal nudity.