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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

6 Detachable Post Cards --disneyland Hotel--camera And Gift ShopRare Postcard Lot - ~100 Roadside Motel Sketch Postcards - Bowers Mcm Folk Art Malibu Ca Tonga Lei Polynesian Tiki Restaurant & Motel 1950s Oversized PostcardPc, Odessa, Ukraine (russia) - The Andreyevsky HotelLinen Postcard Lot Postcards Florida Key West Miami Daytona Hotel Buildings CarsPlaza Hotel New York Key Ring Very Unusual Piece Ready To Use Large SizeVintage Miss Pc Ruins Opera House, Clifton Hotel, Academy, Bay St. Louis, Miss.Greece - Grece, Paros:1930's Hotel Pandrosos.editor :caloutas-tsiropinas No 474.Cyprus Platres Grand Hotel Front / Fountain Closed In 1950's - Edwards StudioBogalusa Louisiana Colonial Hotel Antique Postcard (j17196)Wigwam Hotel Paw Paw Lake Michigan 1922 PostcardCovington, La Hand Colored Southern Hotel 6867 Postcard1970s Interior World Famous Trader Vic's Capital Hilton Hotel Tiki Washington DcThe New Hotel Rocky Mount, Rocky Mount, Va. 1907 Postcard: Franchimont Hotel-restaurant, Marche Theux - BelgiumMichigan Mi Mackinac Island Lakeview Hotel Postcard Old Vintage Card View PostJapan Old Postcard The Grand Hotel Yokohama Entrance Gate With No.20 Garden ParkWv 5 Mi From Weirton -- Ethel & Jack's Inn, Cabins, Cars, Gas Globes, PostcardMontreal Canada Windsor Hotel Street Antique Unused PostcardSechelt, British Columbia Canada Sechelt Hotel Ca 1910 PostcardVintage Postcard Strufe Motel Old Cars Routes 66 47 17 Dwight Illinois IlCanada - Halifax Prince's Lodge 1902 - Pub Smith's BookstoreLake George Ny, Hague Ny, Phoenix Hotel, Harry Watrous, Circa 1910 Post CardAgua Caliente Spa Hotel 1932 Real Photo Post Card & AdvertisingRppc Crystal Lake Illinois 1911 Cottages Cabins Algonquin Mchenry CaryMd Grantsville Meadow Mt Inn & Cabins Gas Station Us Hwy 40 Rppc Postcard 1935Frashers Rppc Cabins At The Thompson Ranch On Owens River Near Bishop California201-a Rppc Lobby Tamarack Lodge Mammoth Lakes CaliforniaFrashers Rppc Miners Cabin At Pine City Near Tamarack Lodge CaliforniaRppc Lobby Tamarack Lodge Mammoth Lakes CaliforniaGreenbrier Hotel Postage Guaranteed * Guest Room Key 1950's Return If Found LostGoldfield, Nv, Hotel Printed Photo Pc View By Allen, Used Christmas Eve 1908 Point Pleasant, Nj Warwick Arms Hotel 19051938 Vintage Rppc - Windmill Hotel Mineral Wells Tx Texas - Real Photo Postcard Cyko Real Photo Postcard "at Lamro S.d." Vintage Rppc Horses Hotel Post OfficeThe Grenville Hotel Bay Head NjFred Harvey Postcardbright Angel Lodge Lounge Grand Canyon National Park ArizonaHague Ny, Hotel Phoenix Circa 1910 Advertising Post CardVintage Real Photo Postcard C1938 Cozy Cabins Viroqua, Wi Wisconsin 15928Ada , Mich - Ada Hotel Rppc C. 1910 C1904-1918 California Placer County Rppc Gillen Hotel ColfaxAnti-laria Sparkling Wine, Antrim Arms Hotel, Antrim, 19111913 Realphoto Postcard: Group Of French Culinary Chefs - Majestic Hotel, ParisCoco Palms Hawaii Vintage Pack Of Hotel Information Package OriginalRppc Old Forge Ny Hollywood Hill Hotel 1920s-30s Adirondacks Mts Photo Post CardFrashers Rppc Middle Fork San Joaquin River Near Tamarack Lodge Mammoth Lakes Ca1928 Bay View Hotel, Onamia, Mn Rppc Postcard Vindobona Hotel, Braddock Heights, Md Linen 1947Sand Traps, Green & Flag, Golf Course, Eddy Farm Hotel, Sparrow Bush Ny RppcAntique Photo Postcard Hotel Vista Del Arroyo Pasadena California Texline, Texas Two Old Postcards 1908 Hotel & Farm Products Panhandle New MexicoVintage Postcard; Hotel Yakima & Monument, North Yakima Wa Used 1919Rppc,fern Lake Lodge,rocky Mountain National Park,co.sanford Photo,c.1920sSouth Africa, Pretoria, Grand Hotel AnimatedFort Wayne, In, Aveline Hotel Fire, 1908 Calhoun At Berry RppcInterior View, A Room At The Eddy Farm Hotel, Sparrowbush Ny1950s Minneapolis Postcard Pick-nicollet Hotel "waikiki Room" Tiki Bar Interior1940s Matchbook Flying M Ranch Motel Mobley Phone 1348 Route 66 Tucumcari Nm Postcard Real Photo, Vendome Hotel, Anacortes Washington, Mailed 1908Barre, Ma - Williams Lodge, Park Street