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Using Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online: Sanborn Maps Geo Edition

View very detailed building-level historical maps for Michigan plus 12 U.S. metropolitan areas which can be exported as .jpg images or GeoTIFF.

Using Sanborn Geo Edition

If you are connecting from off-campus or using a wireless connection, you will be prompted for your MSU NetID and password.

3-minute video on using Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The Sanborn Maps are a terrific resource for viewing detailed information about city properties.  Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show all the buildings, their addresses, and in commercial areas, the type of business establishment in each building.  This purchased computer access to digital images of the Michigan Sanborn maps includes about 339 cities and villages from 1870-1960.  One important difference between the computer database and the original books is that the computer database is black-and-white only, while the original maps use color to indicate building materials.   Please note that not all addresses are address-searchable.  Some sheets remain non-georeferenced and can be located only by browsing through the volumes.

 Choose Michigan or metro area

You may search by address, by lat/long, or by browsing a Google Maps interface.

search boxes

Search results may be viewed in two ways: The "zoom map" view or by overlaying on Google Maps.

In the Zoom Map view, you can see the outline of individual buildings.  The number of stories each building is, and some indication of the bulding’s use (D=dwelling, S=store, etc.).  A full list of codes is available by clicking on ‘Map Key’.  Other functionality is available in the green buttons seen in the figure below.

a.       Email will send to an email address a link to the whole map page within the Sanborn interface.  It does not send an attached graphic file.  You must re-authenticate to open the link.

b.      Crop will crop the image to a smaller rectangle of your choosing.  The resulting graphic will have a watermark that says “Proquest” across the image.  It may be saved as a jpg file.

c.       Print will print either the full page size or the cropped page size (depends on what you are looking at when you click on ‘Print’.

d.      Save JPEG will save the image as a 400ppi file approximately 2MB in size.  The graphic will have a repeating “Proquest” watermark.

e.       Save GeoTIFFwill save the image as an approximately 250 ppi file about 20MB in size.  The graphic will have a repeating “Proquest” watermark.



The Google Maps overlay allows you to compare the old map with the modern infrastructure.

In the “View Maps” option (after check-marking one or more choices) the browser will load a modified Google Maps view of the metropolitan area with the selected maps appearing as small overlays.  Loading takes several seconds.  Use the + and - to zoom in on the maps.  You can fade and brighten the map using the slide bar underneath each checked map.  You can also change the style of the underlying Google Map by pulling down the down-arrow to reveal 3 choices.  The figure above shows how the view changes as you slide the slide bar.  On the left side you see the Sanborn map.  On the right side you can see the modern Google Maps image with the Sanborn map showing transparently. 


About Sanborn Geo Edition

MSU Libraries has access too all Michigan communities (about 339 communities, see the list) on the Geo Edition platform.  Most maps are address searchable!

It also contains detailed historic maps of 12 major metropolitan areas in the United States (see list below).  This module has better navigation and features than our Michigan module.  Sanborn Geo Edition can locate maps by searching a street address, by specifying a latitude/longitude coordinate, or by clicking on a Google Maps interface.

  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Chicago (including North Chicago and West Chicago)
  • Detroit (including East Detroit)
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami and Miami Beach
  • Newark (including East Newark, Harrison, and Kearny NJ)
  • New York City (including Staten Island (Richmond Borough)
  • Philadelphia
  • Richmond, VA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC

Sample Questions

Can you answer these questions using Sanborn Geo Edition?

  1.  What building is currently on the site of Duke Ellington’s birthplace, 2129 Ward Place, Washington, DC?  (The house numbered as 2129 in the 1903 map and 2141 in later maps).
  2. What building is on the southeast corner of Hollywood & Vine in the year 1919?
  3. What two streets in Detroit, Michigan used to intersect at the location of Comerica Park’s home plate?
  4. What kind of factory was in 1894 at the corner of Dey and Church Streets in New York City, currently near the site of the World Trade Center train station?

Subject Guide

Kathleen Weessies's picture
Kathleen Weessies
Geosciences Librarian; Social Sciences Coordinator; Head, Map Library
MSU Libraries
366 W. Circle Drive E240
Subjects:Geography, Geology
Michigan State University