Sanborn Maps A Detailed Source Of American History

In 1867 the Sanborn Company began to make fire insurance maps. The company was founded by a Somerville, Massachusetts surveyor named Daniel Alfred Sanborn.

Within a couple of decades the Sanborn Company had become the biggest and most successful map company in the United States. Now Sanborn Maps publishes historical as well as current maps of towns and cities in the U.S. The maps the company publishes are critical for Phase I environmental research and are also used for restoration and preservation efforts.

Between 1867 and 2007 the Sanborn Company produced maps that detailed pertinent information about 12,000 cities and towns throughout the United Sates. These maps are highly regarded as a source for historical research, sociological studies, genealogical research and urban geography.

Author Kim Keister said, "Stated simply, the Sanborn maps survive as a guide to American urbanization that is unrivaled by other cartography and, for that matter, by few documentary resources of any kind."

Mapping for fire insurance purposes began in the late 1700s in London. The Sanborn Map Company continued that legacy in the United States.

The need for maps mirrored the growth of our nation. In the U.S. the fire insurance mapping industry rapidly grew shortly after the Civil War had ended. At that time the South was being rebuilt and seemingly countless people were moving to the West. It's been said that during that point in time insurance agents and insurance companies, "relied on them with almost blind faith."

The insurance industry used the Sanborn maps to determine the liability of buildings whose owners wanted insurance coverage. Their determination was based on the materials used to construct the building, how close it was to fire departments and to gas lines, how close it was to other buildings, et cetera. Often decisions were made by the insurance companies based solely on the information that was provided by a Sanborn map.

When you factor in the Industrial Revolution, the construction of railroads, the Homestead Act and the huge numbers of immigrants that came to the United States you can see why our population grew so rapidly - especially in urban areas. The need for accurate, detailed maps grew hand in hand with our nation's rapid growth.

The Sanborn maps are drawn at a scale of 1:600, where one inch represents 50 feet. They are large lithographed maps that are printed on twenty one inch by twenty five inch pieces of paper.

Currently a number of companies on the Internet offer digitized versions of the Sanborn Map collection. This offers individuals and corporations the ability to quickly search and retrieve the maps that they need.

The only company that searches the complete holdings of the original Sanborn library - close to 1.3 million maps - is EDR. To find Sanborn Maps at EDR go to

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