Sanborn Map Company Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History
Sanborn's mission as a market leader is to maximize value to customers and shareholders by providing innovative spatial solutions that guide and support decisions confronting governments, businesses, and organizations.
History of Sanborn Map Company Inc.
The Sanborn Map Company Inc. is a leading provider of geographic information system and photogrammetric mapping products and services. The company's range of products and services include consulting, off-the-shelf products, analog, digital, and lidar data acquisition, photogrammetric mapping, and data conversion. Sanborn offers its products and services to government and commercial customers. The company is part of the DMG Information group of companies.
The Sanborn Map Company was founded in 1866 by Daniel Alfred Sanborn, a young surveyor from Somerville, Massachusetts. Sanborn founded his company after preparing insurance maps of several cities in Tennessee for the Aetna Insurance Company in 1866. The Aetna experience together with a successful atlas he published on the city of Boston in 1867 led the young surveyor to see the importance of producing specialized maps for assessing fire insurance liability in cities and towns in the United States. Following his commission with Aetna, he established the D.A. Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau in New York City. The company surveyed and mapped 50 towns in its first year, and by 1873, seven years later, it had surveyed more than 600.
The practice of fire insurance mapping began in London at the end of the 18th century as large fire insurance companies and underwriters began demanding accurate and detailed information about the buildings they were insuring. Between 1785 and 1820, insurance mapping arrived in the United States after the London based Phoenix Assurance Company began expanding its coverage to buildings in the West Indies, Canada, and the United States, where it financed surveys of several cities. Following the American Civil War, fire insurance mapping grew on an unprecedented scale, spurred by the rapid urbanization of American society. With western expansion, the construction of the transcontinental railroad, the industrial revolution, and waves of European immigrants, the nation became transformed from an agrarian to an urban society, heightening the demand for insurance mapping of the growing cities and towns. These sweeping economic and demographic changes attracted numerous surveyors and map publishers to the field. Between 1865 and 1900, local cartographic firms arose to map many cities in New Jersey, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and other cities in the East and Midwest. Many of these companies, however, survived only brief periods of commercial activity, or were acquired by Sanborn.
In 1876, the company incorporated under the name Sanborn Map and Publishing Company. In the years immediately prior to and after its incorporation, the company had already expanded its insurance mapping business throughout the United States. The growth stemmed both from acquisitions of other map companies and the Sanborn company's superior ability to produce detailed, comprehensive, and up-to-date maps that met the growing needs of the fire insurance industry. Following Sanborn's death in 1883, the company he founded continued to prosper, acquiring the Perris and Browne firm in 1899. With this acquisition, the company changed its name to the Sanborn Perris Map Company, Ltd, until 1902, when it became simply the Sanborn Map Company, the name it still holds today.
Sanborn Company Dominates Insurance Mapping Industry
The company relocated its headquarters office to Pelham, New York, in 1907, just a few miles north of New York City. Constructed on five acres of land, its publishing plant featured a 75,000-square-foot main building adorned on the outside with dozens of relief sculptures of ancient mapmakers. The Sanborn Map Company rapidly grew to become the country's largest and most successful mapping company. It employed numerous surveyors in each state in order to allow clients to incur major financial risks without having to personally inspect the properties. The mapmakers worked anonymously and without attribution; their names never appeared on the maps they created. Its most famous surveyor was Daniel Carter Beard, a naturalist, illustrator, author of books for boys, and one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America. In his 1939 autobiography, Beard wrote of his work as a Sanborn surveyor. After joining the company in 1872, he "not only saw all those places I had heard about but I made maps of them, made diagrams of all the homes in each town and city I visited. I took delight in putting into my records mention of real occupancy, genteel or disreputable. After four or five years of this work I knew a lot about our people, saints and sinners, rich and poor."
In 1905, the Sanborn company began standardizing its map producing system for accuracy and design. The standards were published in a surveyors' manual comprising more than 100 pages of detailed instructions, including sample maps and a comprehensive symbol key. The surveyors drew their maps at the scale of 50 feet to an inch, on sheets 21 by 25 inches, which were cross ruled in one-inch squares. The maps included considerable information, including the location and material composition of buildings within cities and towns, the location of water and gas mains, the strength of fire departments, and labeled most buildings by name. The maps were also color-coded to show building composition. The company also provided critical services to customers, often conducting surveys immediately after areas had been struck by natural or man-made disasters to note which buildings had survived and which had been lost. Sanborn expanded coverage to other cities each year and issued revised editions and paste-on correction slips for previously published maps and atlases. The company seems to have reached peak production in the early 1930s. By 1937, its maps depicted the homes of every street in more than 13,000 U.S. cities and towns.
The work of coloring the maps was done by individual artists, who painted on lithographs with the aid of waxed paper stencils at the company's Pelham, New York plant. Because orders of any single sheet rarely exceeded twenty, it was more economical to employ artists than to utilize printing for small orders. Sanborn issued maps as unbounded sheets for small cities and towns and in bound volumes for larger cities, each including approximately 100 plates. Thirty-nine volumes were produced for New York City alone. A loose-leaf atlas format was introduced around 1920, allowing for the replacement of outdated plates without having to reprint an entire volume.
The 1920s marked the golden era for the Sanborn Map Company. By 1920, Sanborn dominated the insurance mapping industry with only two or three relatively small competitors. During the decade, the company, with more than 1,000 employees, also expanded by setting up production facilities in Chicago and San Francisco. With its monopoly also came scrutiny from some of its clients who complained about the cost of Sanborn's products and services. The majority of the company's customers were members of national or regional underwriting associations, one of which--the National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU)--proved to be the most persistent in pressuring Sanborn to lower its costs. In 1914, the NBFU had formed a map committee to consider creating its own map publishing unit to compete with Sanborn. Although the map committee never entered the insurance mapping business despite repeated attempts, it nevertheless became a watchdog and kept the pressure on Sanborn for almost a half a century. Sanborn eventually bowed to a measure of NBFU control and supervision by granting the map committee two slots on its board of directors.
With the economic prosperity and building boom of the mid- to late-1920s, Sanborn profited by preparing numerous maps of new cities and towns and resurveying previously mapped areas. In areas that were experiencing tremendous growth, the company issued maps at six-month intervals. Nevertheless, the 1929 collapse of the stock market and the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s curtailed Sanborn's business. With fire insurance sales lagging, companies again pressured the company to reduce the costs of its maps and services. Sanborn responded by offering cash discounts to subscribers and by lowering the cost of paste-on services for sheet maps concerning smaller cities and towns. After 1930, Sanborn also began issuing correction slips to update specific sections of map sheets. The correction slips enabled the company to reflect current changes without having to update entire map sheets.
Demise of Sanborn Insurance Cartography
Sanborn's financial troubles continued throughout World War II largely because of U.S. government restrictions on new construction and on the production of maps. Like other map publishing firms, Sanborn survived the lean years primarily by producing maps for the U.S. military. The immediate post-war era continued to be difficult years for the company. To bolster declining sales, Sanborn issued maps for cities at reduced scales of one inch to 100 feet and one inch to 200 feet in comparison to its previous format of one inch to 50 feet. It also tried publishing small-size atlases.
By 1960, major changes in the fire insurance industry were rendering the company's maps largely obsolete. In a 1962 report, the NBFU Map Committee noted that there was a general consensus among companies that residential mapping was no longer essential. According to the report, however, business and industrial areas still warranted map service. The report proved to be overly optimistic as the market for Sanborn maps never recovered after World War II. In 1950, the company published its last catalog and downsized its operations, shutting down all of its offices except for the Pelham office. In 1967, Sanborn president, C.F. Donne, observed that since 1961 there had been no new catalog entries for insurance maps for distribution. Instead, the company shifted focus to revising existing atlases and graphics prepared on a custom basis for non-insurance clientele. These publications consisted largely of corrected, reduced-scale, photo-revision, black and white atlases covering approximately 150 cities and towns that the company issued after 1962 in spiral binding.
The demise of Sanborn cartography stemmed from a variety of factors, ranging from new and more efficient methods of determining insurance risk, to company mergers that allowed larger firms to maintain their own engineering divisions. On the whole, however, as the country grew at an exponential rate following the war, Sanborn could no longer keep pace or bear the expense of keeping the maps updated. The decreased demand for detailed locality information led the company to terminate the service before 1950. Moreover, the dramatic improvement in building construction, better fire codes, and new and enhanced fire protection methods also diminished the need for such comprehensive mapping information.
Period of Transition and Renewal
In response to these trends, in 1960, Sanborn began diversifying with a variety of new thematic map styles, such as noise abatement and land use maps. Between 1970 and 1983, the company entered the fields of geographic information systems (GIS), aerial photography, and photogrammetric mapping. With the use of computers, it began tax parcel mapping and produced land/building usage databases, entering the digital age.
In 1996, Environmental Data Resources, Inc. (EDR), national provider of environmental information, purchased Sanborn. After acquiring Sanborn, EDR digitized the original Sanborn collection, making it searchable through its website. DMG Information then acquired Sanborn with its buyout of EDR in 1999. With more financial backing, Sanborn embarked on a roll-up strategy to acquire local companies to establish a more national presence. The roll-up enabled the company to offer local services when it needed to, but provided the benefits of economies of scale and a national sales force. As a result, in 1998, Sanborn acquired the Lockwood Mapping Company of Rochester, New York. In 2000, Sanborn acquired a host of other companies, including Aero Dynamics Corporation of Charlotte, North Carolina; Barton Aerial Technologies, Inc. of Columbus, Ohio; and Williams Stackhouse of San Antonio, Texas. In 2001, Sanborn acquired the assets of the Colorado Springs office of the Indianapolis-based Analytical Surveys, Inc., a struggling digital map-maker founded in Colorado Springs 20 years earlier. By 2002, these various acquisitions had made the company into a leader in the GIS and photogrammetry industry fields with more than 350 GIS and mapping professionals employed in eight divisions nationwide and abroad.
In January 2004, the company won a major image-based GIS project in central California. The project, encompassing 1,450 square miles in the Monterey Bay area, involved producing a variety of photographic, contour data, as well as digital terrain and elevation models for the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, an organization dedicated to the planning and study of regional concerns affecting California's central coast. In August 2004, Sanborn and Pictometry, a provider of a patented information system and related software that captures georeferenced, digital aerial oblique, and orthogonal images, announced a strategic partnership. The agreement provided that the companies would market a combined product offering that included each firm's technical expertise to meet their client's mapping needs. Sanborn's mapping technology would enhance Pictometry's orthogonal imagery for clients needing guaranteed mapping accuracy. In turn, Pictometry would market Sanborn-certified orthophotography images to local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as to private business.
In March 2005, Sanborn announced the acquisition of Space Imaging's North American Federal Civil and Commercial Solutions business unit, a provider of a full range of geospatial services, from in-depth imagery analyses to customized software applications. Space Imaging developed the unit from a small group serving largely the West Coast to a national business reputed for its technical expertise in cartography, remote sensing, decision support systems, and geographic analysis. By combining customized software with in-house cartography, remote sensing, imagery processing, and database analysis, Sanborn was positioned to provide GIS solutions to disaster response, security and risk assessment, state and local governments, forestry and ecosystem resource management, air and ground transportation, and wild land fire management.
Rand McNally and Co.; DeLorme; Intergraph Corporation.
- Key Dates
- 1866 Daniel Alfred Sanborn founds the D.A. Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau.
- 1867 The company incorporates under the name Sanborn Map and Publishing Company.
- 1899 Perris and Browne is acquired.
- 1902 The company changes its name to the Sanborn Map Company.
- 1907 Sanborn Map Company relocates its headquarters to Pelham, New York.
- 1950 The company publishes its last catalogue and downsizes operations.
- 1960 Sanborn Map Company begins diversifying into new markets.
- 1996 Environmental Data Resources acquires Sanborn.
- 1998 Sanborn acquires Lockwood Mapping Co.
- 1999 DMG Information acquires Sanborn with a buyout of Environmental Data Resources.
- 2000 Sanborn acquires Aero Dynamics Corp, Barton Aerial Technologies, Inc., and Williams Stackhouse.
- 2001 Sanborn acquires the assets of Analytical Surveys, Inc.
- 2005 Sanborn announces the acquisition of Space Imaging's North American Federal Civil and Commercial Solutions business unit.
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