Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Historical Sanborn Maps of America


From 1866 to 1977 the Sanborn Map Company produced maps of U.S. cities and towns. The Sanborn maps contained detailed information about individual buildings so that fire insurance companies could accurately calculate fire risk. In the 1960s Fire Insurance companies stopped using maps to underwrite fire risk and consequently there was no market for new Sanborn maps after this time. However the back-catalog of over one hundred years of detailed urban Sanborn maps still provide an invaluable resource for documenting  historical change in the built environment of American towns and cities.

The Sanborn maps collection consists of over 50,000 historical atlases. Around 32,000 of them are currently available online.You can explore the digitized Sanborn maps for yourself on the Library of Congress' Sanborn Maps Collection. Using the Library of Congress Collection you can view each of the digitized Sanborn maps as an interactive online map.

You can now also explore the LOC Sanborn Maps Collection using the new Sanborn Maps Navigator. This new interface allows you to find and explore Sanborn maps geographically by selecting a location on a map of the United States. Select a location on the Sanborn Maps Navigator map and you can view the Sanborn atlases available for that area. The Sanborn Maps Navigator will also show you a random newspaper image from the selected area taken from the newspaper database of Chronicling America.

Once you have found and selected an individual vintage fire insurance map from the Sanborn Maps Navigator the individual map will open on the Library of Congress' website. This will allow you to explore the map in close detail using the LOC's interactive map viewer.

In the United Kingdom and Canada some fire insurance maps were created by the Charles Goad Ltd company. Unfortunately I don't think there is an extant digital interface to view the Goad maps. The British Library's Fire Insurance Maps and Plans does provide links to static Goad maps (it used Flash to provide an interactive interface - which now no longer works). Unfortunately the British Library collection of Goad maps is difficult to search for individual maps and you can only view the maps as static images.

If you want to view the Goad maps of Scottish towns then you are in more luck. The National Library of Scotland has georeferenced Charles Goad Fire Insurance Plans of Scottish Towns, 1880s-1940s. This means that you can search for vintage fire insurance maps of Scottish towns and cities and view these individual maps using the library's own interactive map viewer.

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