Holdings consist of more than 10,000 maps and atlases with a focus on Chicago and Illinois. The collection includes fire insurance maps and maps showing specialized areas, such as parks, transportation, and the world’s fairs.
Search for maps in ARCHIE, our catalog, or ask for the Maps binder at the Reference desk for a chronological and alphabetical list. Use blue call slips to page maps, writing down the category of the map as well as its number.
Many of our maps are cataloged as collections and include itemized lists:
Commonly referred to as Sanborn Maps, after the most well-known publisher, these maps were used by insurance companies to evaluate the fire risk of businesses and homes.
The maps depict block-by-block outlines of buildings located on a given street, at a specific time in the city. Information includes property type, building and framing material, wall thickness, window locations, additions or garages, and more. Fire insurance maps convey detailed information through a system of color coding, abbreviations, and symbols. Read more about Sanborn Map Abbreviations and How to Interpret Sanborn Maps for explanations.
Due to the size of Chicago and the amount of detail in the maps, publishers divided the city into sections, identified by volume number. Instead of re-issuing entire volumes yearly to keep up with changes, publishers supplied small paper updates of new constructions or building additions that insurance companies pasted into the volumes over the appropriate location. Frequently, two dates are listed within maps: the date of publication and the last date when corrections were added.
The Chicago History Museum holds approximately 190 fire insurance maps. See our Fire Insurance Map Collection finding aid for a complete list of our holdings.
Fire insurance maps can be requested on-site at the Abakanowicz Research Center (use a blue call slip).