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What Are Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps?

The Sanborn map collection consists of a uniform series of large-scale [50 feet to an inch], building level maps, dating from 1867 to the present which depict the commercial, industrial, and residential sections of some twelve thousand cities and towns in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The maps were designed to assist fire insurance agents in determining the degree of hazard associated with a particular property and therefore show the size, shape, and construction of dwellings, commercial buildings, and factories as well as fire walls, locations of windows and doors, sprinkler systems, and types of roofs. The maps also indicate widths and names of streets, property boundaries, building use, and house and block numbers. They show the locations of water mains, giving their dimensions, and of fire alarm boxes and hydrants. Sanborn maps are thus an unrivaled source of information for their time about the structure and use of buildings in American cities.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. Maps at the Library of Congress: A Research Guide

Fire insurance maps are distinctive because of the sophisticated set of symbols that allows complex information to be conveyed clearly. In working with insurance maps, it is important to remember that they were made for a very specific use, and that although they are now valuable for a variety of purposes, the insurance industry dictated the selection of information to be mapped and the way that information was portrayed. Knowledge of the keys and colors is essential to proper interpretation of the information found in fire insurance maps.

About this Collection: Library of Congress


Sample Sanborn Map image Library of Congress Sanborn Keys and Colors
Interpreting Sanborn Maps (Library of Congress)
Library of Congress Sanborn Keys and Colors


Sanborn Maps @ Northwestern

Access to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps:

Fire Insurance Maps for Chicago

In Chicago, there were other Fire Insurance Map companies.

Publisher  Year(s)  Source
Robinson  1886  Encyclopedia of Chicago (Entire) or Plates
Greeley-Carlson  1891  Second Atlas of The City of Chicago (NU Library) and NU Library Digital Collections
Bromley  1891 Bromley, George Washington., and Walter Scott. Bromley. Atlas of the City of Chicago, Central Business Property Volume. G.W. Bromley & Co., 1891. [UIC Library Special Collections]
Rascher  1890-1892  Atlas of Chicago. Published by the Rascher Insurance Map Publishing Co., 1891. [UIC Library Special Collections]


Other libraries which has historic fire insurance maps/atlases are:

Chicago History Museum (formerly known as: Chicago Historical Society)
Collection of many original fire insurance maps/atlases for Chicago and some suburbs. (1866-, paper & microfilm)

Illinois Regional Archived Depository (IRAD), Northeastern Illinois Univ.
A nearly complete set of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for northeastern Illinois, Cook County and the City of Chicago (1907-1972 in print.)

Center for Research Libraries
Holds microfilm of all Sanborn fire insurance maps of United States in the Library of Congress (1867- 1970, microfilms)

Chicago Public Library
Some of the Chicago Public Library branches hold original paper Sanborn fire insurance maps of local area. Also check your local libraries if you live outside of the City of Chicago. Some libraries have genealogical research collections including paper/digital Sanborn maps.