What are Sanborn Fire Insurance Plans?
The Sanborn Map Company was founded in 1866 in New York City. For a century, Sanborn produced Fire Insurance Plans (FIPs) that helped insurance companies determine the risk of fire, the greatest threat to structures in the 1800s. Sanborn employees traveled to over 12,000 cities and towns all over the United States to take detailed notes about the size of each building, its materials, and its proximity to fire hazards and hydrants. Then they produced hand-colored maps bound in large folio volumes, which they sold to insurance companies around the country. Every 5-10 years they produced new volumes or sent updated "patches" to be glued in the old volumes.
What can I learn from these maps?
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, urban planners, teachers, or anyone with a personal connection to a community, street, or building. They show the size, shape, and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories and other structures. Looking at maps from different years reveals how buildings and places changed through time. In addition, they indicate the names and widths of streets, property boundaries, and how individual buildings were used. House and block numbers are identified, along with the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes, and fire hydrants.
Want to Learn More?
"The Story of Sanborn Mapping Company," produced by Jim Epstein and edited by Christopher Seward (PBS Channel Thirteen 2008)
For more information on how to read Sanborn fire insurance plans, as well as commonly used symbols and abbreviations, use the following resources:
- Sanborn Map Abbreviations compiled by Environmental Data Resources, Inc.
- Sanborn Map Abbreviations compiled by the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Map Library
- Description and Utilization of the Sanborn Map, published by Sanborn Map Company 1953, Digitized by Penn State University Libraries
- Articles and Essays at the Library of Congress about its Sanborn Maps Collection
- Sanborn Map Abbreviations compiled by the Keweenaw Time Traveler