The Map Collection is a multidisciplinary collection of cartographic materials, housing over 130,000 current and historical maps. As part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Special Collections division, the collection covers every area of the world, with a focus on Philadelphia and adjacent regions. It supports the teaching and learning of history, earth sciences, social studies, art, and literature, as well as research in the areas of genealogy, historic preservation, and land use. The Collection offers hundreds of reference books in the fields of: cartography, cartobibliography, geography, and place names.
Types of cartographic materials in the Collection include: aerial photographs, atlases, city maps, imaginary and literary maps, FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM), fire insurance maps, geologic maps, industrial site surveys, NOAA charts, ONC charts, pictorial maps, road maps and atlases, thematic maps, tactical pilotage charts, transit maps, topographic maps, and World War II maps.
For a printable PDF fact sheet about the Map Collection, click here.
PLANNING YOUR RESEARCH VISIT:
The Map Collection is open by appointment only. All questions or inquiries can be made via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred), or phone: (215) 686-5397 (there is a delay in returning voicemails). Please note: materials in the Map Collection are non-circulating. Scroll to the section "Research Support" (at the bottom of this page) to see suggestions for other research resources.
REQUESTING HIGH-RESOLUTION IMAGES:
DIGITAL MAPS PROVIDED BY THE FREE LIBRARY:
The Digital Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia contains over 5,000 digitized maps of Philadelphia, including: road maps, railroad maps, land use maps, aerial photos, fire insurance maps, industrial site surveys, and ward atlases.
The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Map Overlay Tool is designed to bring history to the present! Historic maps from the Map Collection can be layered on top of a current road map, terrain map, or hybrid (satellite/road) map. Compare the similarities and differences between the old and new maps by adjusting the “visibility” bar, and see how Philadelphia has changed over time!
The Special Collections Digital Repository has all kinds of map-related games, activities, and more relating to Special Collections.
Scroll further down this page to the section "Digital Map Collections" to find links to other online map collections.
COLLECTIONS OF INTEREST:
WARD (CITY) ATLASES OF PHILADELPHIA
Beginning in the early 1860s, mapmakers produced highly detailed maps of Philadelphia neighborhoods using ward boundaries to define the scope of their atlases.
- To determine the ward number of a particular address or area of the city, refer to one of these index maps (organized chronologically).
- To see what volumes we have for each ward, which volumes are digitized, and instructions for using the digitized volumes, refer to this List of Ward Atlases.
SANBORN FIRE INSURANCE MAPS OF PHILADELPHIA AND THE REGION
The Sanborn Map Company absorbed the Hexamer & Son Company in 1915 and continued their fire insurance map legacy in Philadelphia. We have an extensive collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Philadelphia available in multiple formats from 1916 to 2007, in addition to various formats of Sanborn maps for the region.
Like the earlier Hexamer & Son maps (a guide to them is below), Sanborn maps provide detailed snapshots of neighborhoods, indicating: businesses, schools, organizations, industrial factories, and individual houses. They also indicate details like: building materials, street elevation, lot perimeters, and street widths.
- To identify the relevant volume of Philadelphia Sanborn maps, refer to this index map or the Philadelphia Region Insurance Map Finder.
- To see what years we have for each volume, refer to this List of Sanborn Volumes.
Ways to access Sanborn maps online:
- View black and white Sanborn maps online using the “Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970” database. This database is available to Free Library of Philadelphia library card holders.
- To access this database, use the above link and then click on the "S" button. Scroll until you see the "Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970" database and click on it. To access the database outside of the library, you will be prompted to enter your library card number and pin.
- View Digitized Sanborn maps of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia in full color, available through Penn State University Libraries.
- View Digitized Sanborn maps of Philadelphia in full color, available through the Library of Congress.
How to read Sanborn maps:
- About Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, courtesy of the Library of Congress
- How to read Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, courtesy of the Library of Congress
- How to read Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, courtesy of the University of Virginia
- Description and Utilization of the Sanborn Map by Sanborn Map Company, New York: 1953. Courtesy of Penn State University Libraries
- Philadelphia Region Insurance Map Finder, courtesy of Penn State University Libraries and the Free Library of Philadelphia
HEXAMER & LOCHER MAPS OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
This series of maps (predecessors to the Hexamer & Son Insurance Maps and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps) date from 1858 through 1864, and cover Wards 1-16, and 20. Within the volumes are detailed maps of neighborhoods that indicate: businesses, schools, organizations, industrial factories, and houses. They also indicate details like building materials and lot perimeters.
- To identify the pertinent volume number, refer to these ward index maps for the year 1864 or earlier. Please note: these volumes only cover Wards 1-16, and 20.
- Then, go to this List of Hexamer & Locher Volumes, and click on the hyperlink for the volume you want to view.
- Alternatively, you can utilize the Philadelphia Region Insurance Map Finder or Comprehensive Index to determine the volume and plate number.
HEXAMER & SON INSURANCE MAPS OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
This is series of insurance maps of Philadelphia (predecessors to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps) date from the 1870s through the 1920s. Within the volumes are detailed maps of neighborhoods that indicate: businesses, schools, organizations, industrial factories, and houses. They also indicate details like: building materials, street elevation, lot perimeters, and street widths.
- To find which volume of Hexamer maps you need, refer to this index map.
- To see what years we have for each volume, which volumes are digitized, and instructions for using the digitized volumes, refer to this List of Hexamer & Son Volumes.
- Alternatively, you can utilize the Philadelphia Region Insurance Map Finder to determine the volume number.
Other collections with Hexamer fire insurance maps are:
HEXAMER GENERAL (INDUSTRIAL SITE) SURVEYS
The General Surveys are site surveys of many of the industrial sites in the greater Philadelphia metro area. They date from 1866 through 1896.
- They can be viewed in our Digital Map Collection, or through the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.
- If utilizing the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network website, click on the “Resource Browser” button and then on the “Industrial Site Surveys” link in the left-hand column. From there you can “browse” the surveys or “search” for them by name, product and neighborhood.
AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE PHILADELPHIA REGION
The Map Collection contains hundreds of aerial photographs of the Philadelphia region from 1928-2000. Aerial photographs are often used for planning and analysis purposes in the areas of engineering, land use planning, and agricultural monitoring.
- See this list for information about the sets of aerial imagery found within and outside of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
DIGITAL MAP COLLECTIONS:
PHILADELPHIA AND THE REGION
- The Digital Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia contains over 5,000 digitized maps of Philadelphia, including: road maps, railroad maps, land use maps, aerial photos, fire insurance maps, industrial site surveys, and ward atlases.
- The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Map Overlay Tool is designed to bring history to the present! Historic maps from the Map Collection can be layered on top of a current road map, terrain map, or hybrid (satellite/road) map. Compare the similarities and differences between the old and new maps by adjusting the “visibility” bar, and see how Philadelphia has changed over time!
- The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network contains thousands of old maps, property atlases, aerial photos, city directories, industrial site surveys, and other items documenting the history and development of Philadelphia from the 1600s through today. Through a consortium of regional institutions, including the Free Library, thousands of materials are available through this site.
- The West Philadelphia Community Center provides several digitized maps and atlases with a primary focus on West Philadelphia.
- For Philadelphia zoning and permit information as well as historical imagery and maps, see Atlas, produced by the City of Philadelphia.
- For historic burial grounds of Philadelphia, visit the Philadelphia Archeological Forum's map and database.
- For maps of Philadelphia libraries, farmers markets, parks and athletic fields, see OpenMaps, produced by the City of Philadelphia.
- The Bicycle Coalition has produced a Philadelphia Bicycle map and guide for local bikers.
- The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission offers an interactive Circuit Trails map of a network of multi-use trails for the region.
- Atlas of Historical County Boundaries for Pennsylvania, provided by The Newberry Library.
- Penn State University has a number of digitized Sanborn maps for Pennsylvania (including Philadelphia).
UNITED STATES AND WORLD
- The Library of Congress has nearly 30,000 digitized maps covering all parts of the world.
- The David Rumsey Map Collection contains more than 150,000 maps covering all parts of the world. The physical map collection resides in the David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford University Library.
- The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas at Austin has thousands of maps available online from their extensive collection of 250,00 maps.
- The Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education at the University of Southern Maine has digitized thousands of maps from their holdings and offers an array of educator resources.
- The Map Division at the New York Public Library has a large collection with upwards of 10,000 maps that are digitized. They also provide a variety of useful map-related resources.
- The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library has thousands of digitized maps as well as educator resources.
- This interactive Atlas of Historical County Boundaries documents county boundary changes for all 50 states in a project that was produced by the Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture at The Newberry Library.
- The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has thousands of historic and contemporary geologic and topographic maps available online.
- The FEMA Flood Map Service Center has Flood Insurance Risk Maps (FIRM) available to help you evaluate flooding hazards and risks. Learn how to read FIRM maps here.
- The Central Intelligence Agency has several contemporary regional and world maps available online.
RESEARCH GUIDES AND DATABASES
- Free Library of Philadelphia Research Databases
- How to Research the History of a House (PDF)
- Street name changes: Following the consolidation of Philadelphia in 1854, many street names were changed, mostly owing to various ordinances passed by the City Council(s). The Philadelphia Historic Streets Index is a helpful tool to determine old and new street names, as well as the book, Philadelphia Street Name Changes, by Jefferson Moak.
- Here is a guide to the genealogical resources available at the Free Library of Philadelphia and archives throughout the Philadelphia area. This series of guides, web links, and book lists can help you discover your family history, family trees, genealogy records, and more!
- The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers, compiled by Adam Levine, historical consultant of the Philadelphia Water Department, includes resources from the Free Library of Philadelphia's collections.
- Those interested in researching historical maps may also find the resources available within the Print and Picture Collection useful. The collection is home to extensive research collections of Philadelphia images, both historical and modern, as well as diverse collections of fine art prints, photographs, drawings, and artists’ books.
- Click here to learn more about the Free Library’s other special collections and resources.
RESEARCH DEPARTMENTS AT PARKWAY CENTRAL LIBRARY
- The Social Science and History Department holds local history books and maintains file collections pertaining to Philadelphia history, local biographies, Philadelphia neighborhoods, and Pennsylvania counties and government.
- The Newspaper and Microfilm Center contains over 400 newspapers dating back to 1720, as well as city and telephone directories dating back to 1785 on microfilm. Many indexes and frequently asked questions can be found here. Those interested in the newspaper holdings should begin their research process by inquiring with the Social Science and History Department.
- Government Publications at the Social Science and History Department houses the early Philadelphia censuses, including indexes to family names. It is a major resource for census, economic, and marketing data; political and election information; legislative histories, and statistics, and has extensive holdings of publications from the Federal government, the State of Pennsylvania, and the City of Philadelphia.
- The Art Department holds an extensive selection of files on architects and designers, as well as the architecture of Philadelphia.
- The Education Philosophy and Religion Department maintains a historic collection of pamphlets about education, historic churches, libraries, and more.
SUPPORT THE MAP COLLECTION:
We depend on financial support to add new acquisitions to the collection, mount exhibitions, and care for the collection. Please support the Map Collection today.