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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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]



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    

Early Photo Postcard Of Adelphi Hotel, Singapore.1920 Wilmington De Rppc Del Mar Hotel & Maxwell Chrysler Dealer After CycloneCool 1960s Duck Inn Marina & Motel Long Beach Island Nj Lbi The Jersey Shore !!!1909 Auburn Nebraska Depot Hotel Writer Works As Dining Room Girl Photo PostcardControl Tower And Hotel, Prestwick Airport: Ayrshire Postcard (c2881).X6 Dallas Pa 1911-16 Publ Gv Millar +stamps ! Reynolds Park +high School+hotel +1940 Pawhuska Oklahoma Main St Duncan Hotel-rudys-cliftons-cafe Photo PostcardCivil War G.a.r. Drum Corps~hotel Monroe, Joliet, Ilinois~vintage C1912 PostcardNatural Bridge Hotel And Dancing Pavilionswimming Pool Natural Bridge, VirginiaItaly - Ppc - Grand Hotel Continental, Siena, C1910Fabulous Ca.1910 Cape May N.j. Porch View - Hotel Cape May - Jos.k.handCape May Nj - Porch Of Hotel Cape May - Postcard1914 Real Photo Postcard Olcott Beach, Ny Olcott Beach Hotel 1910 Greenwood De Hotel On Main Street DelawareEllwood City Pa-park Hotel-lawrence-beaver County PennsylvaniaRppc ~ "hotel Red Pass", Red Pass Junction, Mt. Robson Park, B.c. Circa 1920New Hotel Construction Hunters Hot Springs Montana 1909 Real Photo Postcard RppcX2 Stoddartsville Pa C1905 Maples Hotel Unused Udb Vf ! Luzerne Co Buck TownshipEllwood City Pa-hotel On Lawrence Ave-billiards-beaver County PennsylvaniaSkaneateles Lake Ny - Glen Haven Hotel Cottages - Handcolored Postcard1913 Hotel Harding-hobart Ok-stage Coach,western Scene-posted,exclntEldred Pa-gold Eagle Hotel-1907-mckean County PennsylvaniaDell Hotel, Broken Bow, Oklahoma Real Photo Postcard Rppc-hotel-essick Heights Pa-lycoming County Pennsylvania1908 The Dun Glen Hotel, Thurmond, West VirginiaSister Bay Wisconsin Hotel Du Nord 1944 Rppc Photo PostcardWesthampton Beach Li Ny - The Howell House Hotel - PostcardCumberland, Md - Motel On Us 40 - RppcRppc Ny Adirondacks Big Moose Skilton Lodge View From Porch (beach Photo)Casino New Breslin Hotel Lake Hopatcong Nj Real Photo Postcard Yosemite National Park ~ Rppc ~ Great View Of Wanoma Hotel W/ Gas Pumps ~ C1915Rppc Photo Post Card Waupac Lodge Wilton New Hampshire Socony Gas Station PumpBaseball Park Palm Beach Florida Breakers Hotel 1909Biwako Hotel,1920`s Advertisement,otsu Postcard.Elkland Pa-hotel Signor-color Border-tioga County Pennsylvania Old Real Photo Postcard Rppc View - Gardenville Pa Garden Villa Hotel & Tea RoomRoute 66 Santa Fe Hotel Winslow Arizona Vintage Fred Harvey Postcard Pm 1926Early 1904 Macatawa Park Hotel Mi Michigan Holland Mich Lake PostcardStroud Nd Rp C1910 Hotel Guests Owners Ghost Town Mckenzie Co. Watford City AreaRppc-ellwood City Pa-street View-snow-hotel Dugan-barber Pole-beaver-lawrence CoNew Zealand Dunedin Leviathan Hotel Pre 1910 Cumberland StreetRppc-eldred Pa-central House Hotel-mckean County Pennsylvania1911 Oneida Junction Iowa Ferris Hotel&lunch Rr Train Depot #5 Photo PostcardLake Geneva Wi Early 1900's Real Photo Post Card - Northwestern HotelEldred Pa-central Hotel-b/w Print Pc-mckean County PennsylvaniaRppc - Early Business Scene , Hotel , Stadelman Tailor Shop, Canaseraga,ny 1907Amarillo, Tx Texas Old Postcard Route 66 Del Camino Motel, Highway 66 U.s. 66Long Lake Lodge Bala Muskoka Canada 1930s Real Photo PostcardChina - Shanghai ,native Town , Pub: Toyo Murakami, Palace Hotel BuildingKenmare - Rppc Of Rolling Mills And Log Cabins On Railroad Cars? 1905-1908Ocean Grove Nj Monmouth County Hotel Grand Building Scene Postcard N J RppcEssick Heights Pa-hotel-lycoming County PennsylvaniaElkland Pa-hotel-elkland House-color Border-tioga County PennsylvaniaGrand Marais, Minnesota, Gateway Hungry Jack Lodge, C1920,rppcAtlantic City Hotel Aldine Posted 1911 Divided Phototype Postcard Pacific AveMandarin Camp, Motel, Tourist Camp, Council Bluffs, Iowa Real PhotoVery Early Huntington West Virginia View Of The Frederick Drug Store - Hotel1910 Yates Center Kansas Stagecoach And Hotel Woodson Real Photo Greece Chalkida Chalkis 'lousi'hotelRare Long Postcard Galvez Hotel, Seawall & Beach Galveston, Texas Rppc Airplane