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.
PLANNING YOUR RESEARCH VISIT:
The Map Collection is not scheduling onsite research appointments at this time. However, we are still monitoring email and phones to provide reference virtually. All questions or inquiries can be made via email at: eRefMap@FreeLibrary.org (preferred), or phone: (215) 686-5397 (there is a delay in returning voicemails). Please note: materials in the Collection are non-circulating.
REQUESTING HIGH-RESOLUTION IMAGES:
DIGITAL MAPS PROVIDED BY THE FREE LIBRARY:
The Digital Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia contains 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 games, activities, and more relating to Special Collections (including maps!).
TYPES OF MAPS IN THE COLLECTION:
- Aerial Photographs (Delaware Valley region) (see below for digitized aerial photos)
- Atlases (see below for digitized atlases)
- Fantasy and Literary
- FEMA Flood Risk Insurance Maps (FIRM)
- Fire insurance (see below for digitized fire insurance maps)
- Industrial site surveys (see below for digitized surveys)
- NOAA Charts
- ONC Charts
- Road maps and atlases
- Tactical Pilotage Charts
- World War II
Hexamer & Son Insurance Maps of the City of Philadelphia
This is an exceptional series of insurance maps of Philadelphia (predecessors to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps) and 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 and which volumes are digitized, refer to this List of Hexamer & Son volumes available through the Free Library of Philadelphia (PDF)
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Philadelphia
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. Like the Hexamer & Son maps, they 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 interactive index map provided by Penn State University.
- To see what years we have for each volume, refer to this List of Sanborn volumes of Philadelphia available at the Free Library of Philadelphia (PDF)
Ways to access Sanborn maps online:
- View Digitized Sanborn maps of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, available through Penn State University
- View Digitized Sanborn maps of Philadelphia, available through the Library of Congress
- Access to the “Sanborn Maps Geo Edition (1867-1970)” database is currently suspended. We are working to restore access and will post an updated link once it is accessible again.
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
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 years we have for each volume and which volumes are digitized, refer to this List of Ward atlases available through the Free Library of Philadelphia (PDF)
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 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.
- Here is a guide to the sets in the Map Collection, as well as links to other collections of aerial imagery.
Digital Map Collections
Philadelphia and Region
- The Digital Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia contains 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.
- 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.
- 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.