Victorians didn’t have text messaging, so when postcards proliferated in the late 1800s, people immediately took to them as a cheap means of sending a brief note with an image. Postcards were particularly popular with travelers and tourists, who used them to document journeys for loved ones waiting back home. Often travelers would pay a penny or two to buy a postcard depicting a sight they’d seen, from real photo postcards of the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty to silk postcards of a sweeping Italian vista or a Grand Canyon sunset.

Early on, hotels owner realized that postcards would make an excellent and inexpensive means of advertising. They’d print a flattering image of their hotel, lodge, inn, cabins, or resort on the card’s face (sometimes combining exterior and interior shots), add the necessary branding and contact information to the back, and then offer the cards for free at the check-in desk. Other hotels placed “free with stay” postcards directly in the hotel room, often accompanied by free letterhead stationary or travel stickers that could be attached to steamer trunks or other pieces of luggage.

Guests who were lazy, cash-strapped, or just plain proud of the establishment they were staying in would toss off chatty notes to their family or friends, add a stamp, and pop them in the mailbox, often before they had even gone out sight-seeing. Ideally, the recipients of these cards would admire the fine hotel their loved one was enjoying, and perhaps feel inspired to take a trip themselves. Worst case, if they ever ended up in the same city, they’d remember the nice spot their kin had discovered.

Other guests, of course, simply pocketed hotel postcards as personal mementos of their trip, keeping them for scrapbooks or photo albums. “Free with stay” hotel postcards exploded in popularity in the 1920s and '30s, edging out civic buildings, Carnegie Libraries, and insane asylums as the most common postcards sent. One reason for the fixation on lodging postcards? Before World War II, staying in a hotel with indoor plumbing was often something to brag about.

After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States. In 1956, the interstate highway system was authorized, and as new freeways were laid, the landscape was suddenly dotted with one- and two-story roadside “motor hotels” or “motels,” where weary drivers could park right outside their room.

The charming photograph postcards given away at these motels prominently featured their tremendous, breathtaking neon signs in iconic Mid-century Modern lettering and design, usually towering over bland, nondescript buildings surrounded by Midwestern prairie or Southwestern desert. The most eye-catching signs have large swooping arrows or elaborate '60s space-age themes. Postcard images from this era showing guests lounging by the pool are particularly enticing, as they just scream “vacation!” These days, though, the vintage swimsuits and gleaming classic Ford and Chevy cars on these postcards are other reason to gawk at these snapshots of Americana.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

American Motels

American Motels

This fun site has a simple mission: To show off as many postcards as possible of 1950s and '60s American motels. Or… [read review or visit site]

Carthalia

Carthalia

Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Time Jaederen Train At Station, Bellessn's Hotel People Norway PostcardTurkey -souvenir De Trebizonde- College Grec-hotel Chems-gusel Serai- Partial RrChina - Japan - Korea - Asia / Old Postcard - Tientsin, Astorhouse HotelGallup New Mexic0 El Navajo Hotel Dining Room Fred Harvey #h-3106Early 1900's Union House Kehres's General Store Hotel Rebuck Pa RppcVintage Postcard Acme Hotel Beach Haven New Jersey Vintage MotorcycleTurkey - Angaranen (angora)- Mosque Hadji Bayram -letter Hotel-soor Edt. RrRppc Of Plaza Hotel - Asbury Park Nj - C.1910Keuka Hotel Original Brochure Circa 1914 Hammondsport, Ny Keuka Lake Turkey /salut De Brousse- Hotel Splendide(tchegirguIreland Dunfanaghy Co. Donegal - Srewart Arms Hotel Letterkenny Cover PostcardRppc Of Lindbergh - Hauptman Trial Union Hotel - Flemington Nj - 1935Vintage ~ 2 Postcards ~ El Ortiz Hotel ~ Fred Harvey Phostint New Mexico1586 - Port Hope Ontario 1933 Queens HotelLake Tahoe, California Postcard "fallen Leaf Lodge" Albertype C1920s UnusedAtlantic City Nj Antique Koehler Hold To Light Postcard Dunlop Chalfonte HotelHotel Hart East Market Street Wilkes Barre PaRppc Lake Tahoe From Echo Summit Lodge Highway 50 Wohlbruck PostcardRoss Teal Lake Lodge Hayward Wisconsin Postcard Reception RoomRppc Pc Scotland = Lagg Hotel, Isle Of Arran (herald Series)Pre 1914 Postcard St James Hotel, Kalk Bay, South Africa, John Bain Cape TownVintage Sterling Silver Salt Spoon From Francis Scott Key Hotel Frederick Md.Outstanding Real Photo Palms Hotel Sarasota Fl. Movie Theatre Etc C19101920s Giles County Eggleston Springs Hotel Dance Hall View - Prospectdale Ocean View Hotel Adrian & Spring House Block Island Ri 1907Idaho Hotel Stage Coach Time, Silver City Idaho Postcard Rppc, Mining Ghost TownFox Lake Illinois Schmidt's Lake View Hotel Il50 Older Hotel And Motel Postcard LotWarm Springs,montana-warm Spring Hotel-c1908-anaconda 3jh60Mexico Hotel Agua Caliente Wishing Well Baja California Postcard Old Vintage PcHotel Jackson Edwards Blvd. Boardwalk Long Beach Li Ny Pc Greenfield Park Ny - Kass Hotel & Amusement Center - Postcard Near EllenvilleBc €Carlton Manor Hotel Rochester Minnesota Oversize Postcard ETourist Haven Humbird Wis Wi Post Card "homelike Cabins" Postcard Highway 12Central Motel & Apts. Seaside Heights New JerseyCyprus Hotel Semmering Saitta Edited Limassol Edwards Studio Louis Tourist AgenOld Rppc Lake View From Hotel Northport Point Michigan Mi PostcardRppc Pearl Point On Beautiful Lake George, Ny Hotel Dock House W/ Pp Sign 1915Real Photo Postcard Unused Pontiac Lodge Mackinaw City MichiganPostcard Vintage Rppc- End Of Trail Lodge Saganaga Lake Gunflint Trail MinnesotaVintage Rppc Hotel Taloga Oklahoma Real Photo Postcard 4 Year Difference TreeVintage Rppc Hotel Taloga Taloga Oklahoma Real Photo Postcard Cars Outside Mccarthy's Hotel Open All Year On Virginia's Va Ocean Highway Cape Charles-c1949Monroe Hotel-monroe-wisconsin-wi1957 Chevrolet Station Wagon, 1960 Buick Melrose Motel And Grill Shreveport, La50 Hotel And Motel Postcard Lot 2Madeira~c.1900 Funchal Jones Hotel Bella-vista Multi View Art Card9. A Lot Of 22 Postcards Featuring The Historical Hotel Del Coronado San Diego1980s Abu Dhabi Hotel Meridien Uae Pc United Arab Emirates Dubai BlueYucca Arizona Joshua Motel Route 66 Vintage Advertising Postcard Old CarsLakewood New Jersey Blythwood Hotel, NjRppc Of Delawanna Hotel - Delawanna Nj - C. 1920Vintage Old Brockton Massachusetts Hotel Norris Building Advertising Pc PostcardAlexandria Va * Southern Modern Guest Home Cottages 1952 Rt. 1 Tourist Motel1950 Hanover Ks Rppc Hotel Leroy Kansas Real Photo Old Elkton Virginia View Of The Gables Hotel - Elk Lithia Springs1930s Grand View Point Hotel On Lincoln Highway, Pennsylvania *6 Diff*Indies House Duck Key Florida Fl Vintage Motel Postcard 1965Piedmont Washington Log Cabin Hotel Rppc Real Photo Postcard