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Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

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Fire Insurance Map of Osceola in Polk County from 1926.

Osceola, Polk County, 1926
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What can I find here?

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are meticulously detailed, large, color-keyed street maps. They were created to assist insurance agents determine the degree of fire hazard associated with a particular property. Most date between 1883 and 1930. The maps are large-scale lithographed street plans at a scale of 50 feet to one inch on 21" x 25" sheets of paper.

Maps were created for all sizes of cities and villages. The Society has maps for 325 Wisconsin communities.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps typically focus on a community's business district, giving a detailed assessment of the buildings within the district along with features of the district itself.

The maps include outlines of each building and outbuilding. They document the size and number of stories of every building, the location of windows and doors, fire walls, and indications of sprinkler systems. They note the nature of the business or businesses which occupied individual buildings, sometimes even particular room uses. They list the type of construction and the composition of building materials including the framing, flooring, and roofing materials.

The maps document the street names of districts, street and sidewalk widths, property boundaries, locations of fire hydrants, locations of water and gas mains, and even the names of most public buildings, churches and companies. They also document the strength of the local fire department and the presence of fire hazards such as blacksmith forges, large baker's ovens or stored kerosene, and the existence of firefighting equipment, cisterns or community water works. Rivers, canals, railroad corridors and similar features are also noted.

Some maps also include large portions of residential areas. Individual homes are recorded with the same precision as large factories.

The Sanborn maps are an excellent way to view urban growth and development. They are valuable for urban specialists, social historians, architects, geographers, genealogists, local historians, planners, and environmentalists.

How is it organized?


  • 325 color-keyed Wisconsin Sanborn maps are arranged alphabetically by city in the Archives.
  • Each Sanborn Map is divided into numbered sheets.
  • Each map has a detailed set of symbols indicating the features of individual buildings.
  • Guides are available for more information on how to use the maps.
  • The Archives also houses a complete microfilm edition of Wisconsin Sanborn Maps (in black and white).
  • Some Area Research Centers (ARCs) have obtained black-and-white microfilm map copies for their regions. Several ARCs have original Sanborn maps for at least one city in their respective regions.

  • Society staff began adding Wisconsin Sanborn maps to our online map collection in the summer of 2013. Work is expected to finish in the spring of 2014.
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