Fire Insurance Maps
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, their construction materials (masonry, frame, etc.), and use (garage, bakery, residence, etc.), and other information. These maps were created to help insurers determine the level of risk involved in insuring properties against fire. Fire insurance maps were published by several companies, but the largest producer was the Sanborn Map Company. As a result, fire insurance maps are often referred to as “Sanborn maps,” regardless of the map publisher’s name.
The Newberry has fire insurance maps for many Illinois towns, including Chicago. Some are available only in hard copy; others are available online. None of these atlases are duplicated exactly at other libraries, because each atlas includes dated revisions unique to each hard copy.
Sanborn Map Company Insurance Maps of Chicago, 50 hard copy volumes published between 1901-1950, revised to circa 1990. Does not include suburbs; not digitized. Gift 1999, Peoples Gas. See the index map shelved with the atlases (Newberry Call Number: map8C G1409.C4 S3 1901). Also indexed by the University of Illinois at Chicago digital map index; the Chicago Public Library’s online checklist; and the printed checklist Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress (Newberry Call Number: Ref Z6026.I7 U54 1981).
In addition, the Newberry subscribes to Digital Sanborn Maps of Illinois, 1867-1970. Includes suburban Chicago, and reproduced by ProQuest from variant and unrevised copies held by the Library of Congress. Available at the Newberry, but only in person, through Illinois’s CARLI library consortium. Black-and-white images lacking original color codes. Many libraries hold subscriptions to this database, including the Chicago Public Library.
Two duplicate but variant Sanborn volumes 6 and 7, hard copy only, covering the Near West Side and West Town, published 1916-1917, revised to 1951; formerly owned by the Draper & Kramer real estate firm (Newberry Call Number: map8C G1409.C4 S3 1916).
Maps of the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago’s far South Side, in two sheets (1886?), detached from volume 2 of a Rascher Insurance Map Publishing Company atlas, hard copy only. (Newberry Call Number: map6F G4104.C6:2P8 1886 .R3).
Other hard copy Newberry atlases that detail the footprints of Chicago buildings include Robinson’s Atlas of the City of Chicago (1886) (also available online in the Encyclopedia of Chicago); Bromley’s Atlas of the City of Chicago, Central Business Property Volume (1891); Central Map, Survey and Publishing Co.’s Union Stock Yards and Packing Houses (1891); Rascher’s Block Book of Chicago Business District (1893); and Yerkes’s Insurance Map of the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893).
The Chicago History Museum holds 52 hard copy atlases, most published by Sanborn and Rascher between 1869–1928, with scattered revisions to 1958. Also holds 9 volumes for towns outside Chicago, variously dated 1896-1926. See the Museum’s typescript list of “Chicago Fire Insurance Atlases” (compiled 198-?), available in the Newberry Map Room (fourth floor, Special Collections).
The Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University holds 49 Sanborn volumes published between 1906-1950, revised to 1976.
The online Sanborn Maps Collection at the Library of Congress is an ongoing digitization project based on unrevised originals in color, including Chicago volumes A-F, 9-12, and 14-15, variously published 1894-1897. For black-and-white images of all Chicago volumes at the Library of Congress, see ProQuest’s Digital Sanborn Maps of Illinois, 1867-1970.
The Chicago Public Library and the University of Illinois at Chicago each hold Digital Sanborn Maps of Illinois, 1867-1970, reproduced from unrevised atlases in the Library of Congress collection. Both libraries also hold Chadwyck-Healey’s microfilm version of Sanborn maps of Illinois. The digital and microfilm versions are indexed by the printed checklist Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress (Newberry Call Number: Ref Z6026.I7 U54 1981).
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development holds a hard copy set of Sanborn atlases; not available in person nor online. Digitized circa 2015 as a map layer for Chicago’s online Zoning and Land Use Map (but digital Sanborn content is accessible to Department staff only).
Digital Sanborn Maps of Illinois, 1867-1970, covering dozens of towns and counties, all reproduced by ProQuest from unrevised atlases in the Library of Congress collection. Black-and-white images lacking original color codes. Available online at the Newberry, but only in person, through Illinois’s CARLI library consortium. Many libraries hold subscriptions to this database, including the Chicago Public Library.
The online Sanborn Maps Collection at the Library of Congress, an ongoing digitization project that includes over 700 images of Illinois towns and counties, reproduced from unrevised originals variously dated 1883-1950. Color images of the same volumes earlier reproduced in black-and-white in ProQuest’s Digital Sanborn Maps of Illinois, 1867-1970.
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps image database, digitized from originals at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, includes over 1,600 images of Illinois towns and cities, all published before 1923, with variant revision dates.
National image directory of fire insurance maps arranged by state names, and compiled by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; includes image links to fire insurance map collections held throughout the United States.
Philip Hoehn’s Union List of Sanborn & Other Fire Insurance Maps, available online via the University of California, Berkeley. A national census of maps held by many libraries, with links to digital images arranged by state name.
The online Sanborn Maps Collection at the Library of Congress, is an ongoing digitization project covering all of the United States; reproduces over 25,000 sheets from over 3,000 city sets, in color, from unrevised originals.
Fire Insurance Maps online (FIMo) is a fee-based subscription database with national coverage of the United States, a commercial website managed by Historical Information Gatherers. Includes large-scale historic maps published by Sanborn, Perris, Hexamer, Whipple, Baist, Bromley, Hopkins and other publishers. The Newberry Library is not a subscriber.
Oswald, Diane L. Fire insurance maps : their history and applications. College Station, Tex.: Lacewing Press, 1997. 102 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm. (Newberry Call Number: HG9771 .O85 1997)
Notes on Sanborn atlas symbols and abbreviations form part of the online Sanborn Map Collection at the Library of Congress.
See also the online guide to Sanborn Map Symbols, Abbreviations and Notes (compiled by Environmental Data Resources, Inc.