The 19th-century St. Louis fire insurance maps
are an important source of historical
information to study the growth and
development of post-Civil War St. Louis. By
1870, a tide of immigrants had swollen the St.
Louis population to over 310,000 and the city
had grown from an important frontier
commercial center to the 4th largest city in the
Originally created for the fire insurance
industry, these maps provide the most
complete visual record of the evolving built
environment in St. Louis, covering
commercial, industrial, and residential
neighborhoods. Urban planners, architects,
urban archeologists, and historians as well as
to those engaged in family, neighborhood, and
house history regularly consult fire insurance
Washington University Libraries and the
Missouri Historical Society hold
approximately 2,500 fire insurance maps
produced in St. Louis between 1870 and 1898
that are not part of any existing digital
collection. As the Sanborn Company did not
publish St. Louis maps until 1903, there are no
19th century St. Louis Sanborn maps.
• Alphonso Whipple prevented the entry of Sanborn into the St. Louis
market until 1903
• Whipple retired and sold his firm to the Sanborn Company.
• Whipple produced first volume of fire insurance maps in 1870,
followed by the Special Risk Series (1872-1878), which focused on
high value industrial properties.
• T. A. Aubin, who had worked for Whipple, issued his only set of
maps in 1874.
• Whipple produced increasingly larger multi-volumes sets of maps
for St. Louis in 1876, 1889-92, and 1895-1898.
• The maps employ color and symbol codes for details such as
building materials, building use, number of stories, and availability
of water. After 1875, maps were updated by pasting change slips
over the land parcels that were altered.
Reasons to Digitize
• Access – a resource with limited access will
receive limited use. Visual finding aid.
• Impact – Resource is in demand, who knows in
what ways it might be used?
• Experimentation – GIS component allows maps
to be incorporated with other datasets. Web 2.0?
• Preservation – the originals are already brittle, by
decreasing physical use it will prolong their life.
• Increased scholarship in historic St. Louis
• Increased access to maps
• Future collaboration and establishing
• More grants: success breeds success
• Merging of information: combining datasets
• Increased productivity: since this was a “first” in
a lot of ways, we will be able to do things better