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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

Vintage Disneyland Hotel's Vacationland PostcardNew York Plaza Hotel Doorknob - Early 1900s ***free Shipping***New York Plaza Hotel Doorknob - Early 1900s **free Shipping**Turkey/ Constantinople - Pera /grand Hotel "kroecker " (very Rare Label Back)Tasmania.fern Tree Hotel, Huon Road HobartTurkey / Eski -chehir - Hotel Tadia RrrC1910 Rockaway Oregon Ocean View Camp Rppc Automobile CabinsThe Jacdson Hotel Manasquan Nj 1907 PmcRare! 1900s Neumayer Hotel ~ Advertisment Aluminium Card~ Council Bluffs, IowaOld Home Week Columbia Pa Rppc 1913 Real Photo Postcard Hotel & WoolworthRp Cripple Creek Colorado Elks Lodge Interior 1910s Panoramic PostcardHotel Northampton Cape Charles Va Rppc Hotel Champlain Swanton Vermont Maquam Bay Lake 1908 Real Photo PostcardButlins Margate, Queens Hotel Postcard (m1167)1910 Vintage Postcard Hotel Brooklyn Lower Town Phoenix British ColumbiaHotel Silver Match Holder-ash Tray--sir Walter Hotel, Raleigh, NcAbertillery,wales,u.k.wilkins' Temperannce Hotel,gwent,c.19091910 Vintage Postcard Quamichan Hotel Duncans British ColumbiaDecatur,indiana,the Burt Hotel,adams County,used,flag Cancel,1907Queen Charlotte Hotel Charlottesville Va Rppc Street Scene In Jamaica Guthrie County Iowa 1908, Undertaker, Store, HotelUnused Color Pc Of The Hotel Armbruster Mauch Chunk, Pa.Navajo Lodge - Rppc Postcard - Ruidoso New MexicoArisaig Hotel: Inverness-shire Postcard (c7020).Shreveport Postcard Mccaskill MotelRppc Lagomonte Lodge Rangeley Lakes Me Maine361. Real Photo Postcard Of Bookmakers In The Montecarlo (hotel), Juarez,mexico Turkey/ Salut De Brousse Hotel "splendide "(tchegirguée) ,edt.p.eugenides Rr1902 Hotel Britannia Brevkort Fra Norge (norway) (utviken)The Lodge United Fruit Company's Offices And Quarters Limon Costa Rica UsedTurkey/ Alexandrette - Hotel "elian " Edt.joseph Caraly Turkey /greece - Monastir - Hotel " Orient " ,g.zalli Edt.Turkey - Smyrne (İzmir) Collection.card 15 Hotel De La Ville Taos New Mexico Nm Rare View Don Fernando Hotel Handcolored Vintage PostcardBeirut, Lebanon, Rivoli Square & Regent Hotel Overview, Real Photo Pc C. 1940sLot 6 Glasgow Mt Great Northern Depot Town View Bridge Hospital Hotel 1914Vintage 1908 Postcard Estill Springs Hotel Tennessee To Master Barnhill Old TnRp Arcadian Lodge Dining Room Winter Harbor Me MaineTasmania.the Club Hotel Burnie.rppcPzes Tolchester Beach Md South Side Of Hotel 1923 Maryland Postcard Pzap PzcbVintage Las Vegas Glenn Vegas Motel Postcard Unused Free ShippingVintage Postcard Craryville New York "old Hotel"Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn Nyc Ny-interior Hotel Beau Rivage-postcardVtg C R Childs Original Photo Hotel Geneva, Lake Geneva, Wi Pc Proof Old AutosVtg C R Childs Photo Hotel Geneva, Lake Geneva, Wi Proof Front Long ViewVtg C R Childs Photo Hotel Geneva, Lake Geneva, Wi Proof For Pc#19076 Birds EyeVtg C R Childs Photo Hotel Geneva, Lake Geneva, Wi Proof For Pc#19074 Birds EyeAntique Mt Washington Hotel Bretton Woods,white Mountain,nh Blu,whit Tile,trivetDownieville California Real Photo Rppc Postcard "st Charles Hotel" C1940s UnusedHollister, California Photo Rppc Postcard Hartman Hotel Street View 1930 CancelIdaho Springs, Co Real Photo Rppc Postcard Placer Inn Hotel Street View C1930sCalifornia! Ca. Hotel, Motel, Inn Postcard Lot Of 25 Chrome Roadside Americana!1906 Postcard Hotel Breakers, Long Beach, Wa Washington - Dpo Breakers DoaneAntique El Dorado Hill Hotel And Tavern Real Photo PostcardZf1035 Woodland Motel Woodland California Ca Linen 1954Huge Lot Of 50 Hotel And Motel And Cottages PostcardsBathing, Virginia Beach, Va. / 1910 / The Arlington Hotel CardCumberland Wi~birds Eye Scene From Hotel~stores~houses~woman On Porch~1914Swanton, Vermont Hotel Champlain, Maquam Bay Vintage View Showing Old Autos Az, Page, Arizona, Glen Canyon Motel, Exterior View, Mike Roberts No Sc7759