Fire Insurance Maps

Sanborn fire insurance maps.
Sanborn Map Company. Insurance maps of Chicago, Illinois. c.1901-50. Map 8C G1409.C4 S3 1901.

Fire insurance maps are widely used by historians, preservationists, planners, genealogists, and others interested in seeing what particular buildings, neighborhoods, and towns looked like in the past. Fire insurance maps show the footprints of buildings and other structures, as well as the construction material (masonry, frame, etc.), use (garage, bakery, residence), and other information. As the name implies, such maps were created to help insurers determine the level of risk involved in insuring particular properties against fire. Fire insurance maps were published by several companies, but the largest producer was the Sanborn Map Company. Often, folks refer to fire insurance maps as “Sanborn maps,” regardless of the actual map producer’s name.

The Newberry has fire insurance maps for many Illinois towns, including Chicago. Most of these maps are available in electronic format. Some are available only in hard copy (mostly Chicago). The Newberry’s collection contains:

  • Digital Sanborn Maps of Illinois, 1867-1970. Covers hundreds of Illinois towns, including Chicago and its suburbs. Reproduced from the Library of Congress collection. Available for use in the Newberry only. (Many other libraries have this database, including the Chicago Public Library.)
  • Fifty Sanborn Map Company volumes covering the City of Chicago (only), published between 1901-1950, revised to circa 1990. Does not include suburbs. Gift 1999, Peoples Gas. Call Number: Map8C G1409.C4 .S3 1901 Index Map (fourth floor, Special Collections).
  • Two duplicate Sanborn volumes covering the Near West Side and West Town, published 1916-1917, revised to circa 1950; formerly owned by the Draper & Kramer real estate firm. Call Number: Map8C G1409.C4 .S3 1916 (fourth floor, Special Collections).
  • Pullman neighborhood in two sheets (1886) detached from Chicago Suburbs Vol. 2 (Chicago: Rascher Map Publishing Co., 1886) p. 1-7. Call Number: Map 6F G4104.C6:2P8 1886 .R3 (fourth floor, Special Collections).

Other Institutions

Other Chicago and Illinois institutions have unique collections of fire insurance maps, including:

  • Chicago History Museum: Has 45 volumes published mostly by Sanborn and Rascher. Bulk of collection ca. 1860–ca. 1950. See the Museum’s list of “Chicago Fire Insurance Atlases.” Copies of this list available in the Newberry Map Room (fourth floor, Special Collections).
  • Chicago Public Library: Has Illinois portion of the Chadwyck-Healey microfilm series reproducing the Library of Congress collection. The series is indexed by Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress: Plans of North American Cities and Towns Produced by the Sanborn Map Company: a Checklist. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1981. (Newberry Call Number: Z6026.I7 U54 1981, second floor and fourth floor). Also has Digital Sanborn Maps of Illinois (accessible from home with a valid Chicago Public Library card).
  • University of Illinois at Chicago (Daley Library): Holds the Illinois portion of the Chadwyck-Healey microfilm series reproducing the Library of Congress collection. The series is indexed by Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress: Plans of North American Cities and Towns Produced by the Sanborn Map Company: a Checklist. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1981. (Newberry Call Number: Z6026.I7 U54 1981, second floor and fourth floor). Also has some hard copy volumes. See Maps Section: Government Documents for more information on UIC’s collection.
  • Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University: Holds many Sanborn atlases for Chicago dating from 1916 through 1950, many with maps updated to 1972. Allows you to make color photocopies.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Map and Geography Library: Has a large collection of Sanborn maps for Illinois towns and cities. See Map and Geography Library for additional information.

Additional Resources