History and Background
Maps and atlases were among the first items acquired when the Library of Congress
was established in 1800. It was not until 1897, however, when the Library of Congress
moved into its own building, that a separate Hall of Maps and Charts was created to
house the growing collection of 47,000 maps and 1,200 atlases. The division now occupies
an area of 90,000 square feet in the Library's James Madison Memorial Building. The area
is specifically designed and constructed to accommodate a variety of cartographic
collections, library functions, and a professional and technical staff of 38 persons.
Annual additions to the Geography and Map Division's collections average 40,000
maps, 2,000 atlases and 2,500 geospatial datasets. Because surveying and mapping are
significant government functions and responsibilities, approximately 60 percent of the
cartographic materials are received from offical sources. Most private and commercial
cartographic works published in the United States are acquired through Copyright or through
purchase. Many rare and valuable maps and atlases in the collections have been presented to
the division by generous and public-minded citizens.
The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress provides cartographic and
geographic information for all parts of the world to the Congress, Federal agencies, state
and local governments, the scholarly community, and to the general public. It is the largest
and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world, numbering over 5.2 million maps,
including 80,000 atlases, 25,000 geospatial datasets, 6,000 reference works, numerous globes
and three-dimensional plastic relief models, and a large number of cartographic materials in
Among the earliest original maps in the collections are three manuscript portolan atlases
and 19 portolan charts from the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries drawn on vellum by
Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish cartographers. The excellent collection of atlases dates
from an 1482 printed edition of Claudius Ptolemy's Geography and includes representative
volumes of all significant publishers of atlases for the last five centuries. The atlases
cover individual continents, countries, cities, and other geographic regions, as well as the
world ranging in scope from general to topical.
Of particular interest to genealogists and local historians is a large collection of U.S.
county and state maps and atlases published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Atlases published during the past four or five decades and covering national, regional, state,
and provincial resources form another noteworthy reference group.
The division has an excellent collection of manuscript and printed maps of colonial
America, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the wars of the twentieth
century. Supplementing these historical records are photo-reproductions of manuscript maps from
various American and European archives. The Hummel and Warner collection inlcude rare
manuscript and printed maps and atlases of China, Japan, and Korea from the seventeenth century.
About 55 percent of the maps are individual sheets of large- and medium-scale map series
and nautical and aeronautical charts published during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Official topographic, geologic, soil, mineral, and resource maps and nautical and aeronautical
charts are available for most countries of the world.
The collection of single maps embraces more than two million general and special subject
maps of the world and its various political entities, divisions, and subdivisions, with maps
of the Americas and countries of the Western Hemisphere predominating. North America, the
United States, each of the 50 states, and the largest cities are especially well represented.
Among the numerous county maps and city and town plans are some 700,000 large-scale
Sanborn fire insurance maps, in bound and loose sheet volumes. The Sanborn Map Company was the
dominant American publisher of fire insurance maps and atlases for over 100 years. Founded in
1867, the firm has issued and periodically updated detailed plans of 12,000 American cities
and towns. Some areas are represented by as many as eight different editions. This collection
constitutes an unrivaled cartographic and historic record of America's urban settlement and
growth over more than a century.
For research assistance please see our Research Reference Policies.
The Geography and Map Division will respond to requests that cannot
be answered by a library in the inquirer's locality. It is not possible,
however, to undertake extensive research projects or to assist students
in preparing bibliographies, term papers, or other academic assignments.
Library of Congress
G&M Reading Room
1st and Independence, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20540-4650
Telephone: 202-707-MAPS (6277)
Ask a Librarian
The Center is an industry group formed in 1995 and dedicated to
the support of the Library of Congress's Geography and Map Division
in its transition to the digital world. Through hardware, software,
and expertise donated by member companies the Center helps develop
effective methods for scanning and disseminating the Library's cartographic
holdings. This support supplements the Geography and Map Division
by the Library's National Digital Library Program for cartographic
The Philip Lee Phillips Society is a friends group formed in 1995
by the Geography and Map Division.
For more information regarding the activities of the Center or the Society
Ralph E. Ehrenberg
Chief, Geography and Map Division