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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, February 04, 1951, Image 108

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1951-02-04/ed-1/seq-108/

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• »T7 BURGLAR? Just a
Sanborn man at work
Don’t shoot at the snooper who’s sketching your
house from a treetop. He’s probably just one of the
agents of this strange insurance “espionage” corps
by Nelson Valjean
Drawing by Robert Bugg
Peeking from her window, the housewife
followed every move of the stranger in
the street. He walked along slowly, scruti
nizing the houses and scribbling mysteriously
on what looked like a map. Presently, quick
as a phantom, he ducked into the alley and
climbed to the vantage point of a shed roof.
The woman called the police.
“Hurry!” she pleaded. “There’s a regular
snoop out here. Maybe a — a spy! The war,
you know!”
The police hurried, and found just what
they expected — a tanned young man with a
nice grin who had shown his credentials and
registered with them the day before, a pre
caution wisely taken by the 125 surveyors of
the Sanborn Map Company. Keenly aware
ortbi actual spy danger, the cops thanked the
woman for her alertness but released her
Unknown to his accuser, the surveyor,
on entirely legitimate business, had just
placed the woman’s own home on his
cartograph. Fire-insurance companies, tax
assessors, city planners, market-research
organizations and other Sanborn subscribers
wanted to see it. Millions of other dwellings
are likewise on the map — including yours.
If you live in any one of 13,000 cities or
towns of the United States, Alaskatn- Hawaii,
your home is almost certainly on the map.
scaled 50 feet to the inch and in color.
Strangely enough, not one home owner in
an estimated thousand knows that he’s been
mapped. Why the mystery? Simply because
Sanborn men work quietly, without asking
needless questions. That way. you are saved
annoyance and the surveyors can cover more
ground more quickly.
Trouble With the MP'a
Even so, during wars or world tensions this
very quietness sometimes boomerangs. The
Korean fighting, for example, has brought a
rash of spy accusations, ironic in light of the
company’s record in World War II when it
made 85 per cent of our Air Force maps and
prompted the commanding officer of the
Corps of Engineers to say: “Without your
help our mission could never be accom
plished.” Despite this, the spy accusations
still pop up. In Paso Robles, Calif., the
Military Police seized a Sanborn man near
Army installations. His notes and maps
looked mighty suspicious; credentials didn’t
mean a thing. It took a company vice-presi
dent, Harold E. Oviatt, to clear him.
Occasionally, when not suspected of espi
onage, the fieldmen are mistaken for melei
readers, sewer inspectors, union sleuths, city
detectives or burglars out casing the neighbor
hood. But these plotters who inventory the
nation’s structures for the biggest company
of its kind in the world are masters of tact
and champions at absorbing rebuffs.
Their biggest job, naturally, is New York
City, which they have laboriously portrayed
SANBORN’S President Buchanan: His
men cover 13,000 cities and towns
with 7,100 map-pages, each measuring 21 by
25 inches, approximately four times the size
of the page you are reading. Bound in 78
volumes, the New York maps show almost
every nook and cranny of the city’s five
boroughs and sell for $11,330.
In 1866, D. A. Sanborn, a civil engineer,
recognized the need for fire maps with stand
ardized colors and symbols — characters that
would indicate story heights, w'all thicknesses,
cornices, doors and windows, every detail
essential to the quick appraisal of each struc
ture as a fire risk. He founded the business
that year. Today his symbols are an accepted
language among fire-insurance men and other
Sanborn clients, all of whom, in one way or
another, affect your welfare.
Are Ton a Fire Hazard?
Suppose you want lire insurance on your
dwelling. You apply to your agent. He. in
turn, sends a description of it and the street
address to one of the companies he represents,
where a clerk checks a Sanborn map. True,
a rating organization already will have estab
lished insurance rates for houses constructed
like yours, but the insurance company wants
to know exactly wliat it insures when il in
sures it and the map tells the story. It
tells the story of the house itself and of any
neighborhood fire hazards. Further investi
gation, rejection of your application or issu
ance of the policy can result.
Sometimes surveyors wind up in weird
s|>ots. One of them got himself locked
out on the roof of a San Francisco build
ing. He wasn’t rescued until the pebbles
he kept tossing down attracted attention as
nightfall neared. Sanborn sleuths’ work takes
them into occupied jail cells or brings them
face to face with screaming mental patients.
They may spend a half hour diagramming
chicken coops, then walk around the corner
and map a million-dollar factory.
For Surveyor F. Rives Heath the job is
anything but humdrum. As he trudged to
ward a lonely shack once at Nogales, Ariz.,
near the Mexican boundary, warning bullets
whipped up dust at his feet. Plain scared, he
Continued on page 21

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