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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

1930s Kowloon Rppc Passenger Train Tram At Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong China3 Dino's Lodge Postcards1908 Weidner Postcard Of Trees & Tents At Hotel Linda Vista San Anselmo Marin Real Photo Postcard Post Card Antioch Illinois Ill Il Cushings Hotel Grass LakeFort Collins, Colorado. Rppc. Northern Hotel, College Ave. Many Signs, 1930sWrightsville Beach North Carolina Oceanic Hotel Antique Postcard K44364Christiansund Kristiansund Norway Grand Hotel 1905 PostcardAlbuquerque Nm New Mexico, Alvarado Hotel Lobby, Fred Harvey PostcardAdvertising Postcard Isle Of Cuba Hotel Havana OversizeReal Photo Postcard Rppc Montgomerys Ferry Perry County Pa Hotel & Beer TavernVintage Antique Toledo Ohio Point Hotel Real Photo Postcard,grasser Brand BeerGilroy Hot Springs, California Postcard "the Hotel" Hand-colored Pnc 1911 CancelB.e.a. British East Africa Nairobi Norfolk Hotel J. Favre Postcard 1910 K039Not Double Rppc Ormond Hotel Near Daytona Beach Fl 1920'sDeshong's Cabins Lincoln Highway Saluvia Pa Fulton County Pennsylvania Postcard1910 Ely Cafe Shop Front & Minster Hotel Postcard Near The Cathedral CambridgeC1911 Rppc~"mineola Hotel",fox Lake, Illinois~vintage Real Photo Postcard SignedHotel And Cottages Buffalo Ridge Springs Agee Virginia Va C1910Hurricane Hill Hotel Tullahoma Tn Tennessee Postcard 1910s 1914 Cancel SouthColumbia City, Oregon Hotel & Store 1910's Rppc Old Autos In Front - RarePostcard Dahmers Motel & Restaurant Franklin West Virginia #19Rare 1908 Hurricane Wv View Of The Curry Hotel - Huntington - Frank Counts CardVintage Rppc Pitts Hotel, Auburn Alabama Rppc-parking Lot-pinecrest Lodge-pinecrest-ca-tuolumne Co-sonora PassWaynesville Nc Panoramic Eagles Nest Hotel Above The Clouds Postcard HazelwoodRare 1910s Postcard Orient Hotel Ad Elevator Baths Steam Kansas City Missouri Mo1914 Lake County Rppc Hulic's Loon Lake Hotel Antioch Holtdorf #756 Illinois IlRppc Flat City Alaska Hotel Cafe Bakery Lomen Bros Real Photo Postcard 1911Gunflint Trail, Northwoods Lodge Sign, Grand Marais Minnesota Mn Rppc PostcardPostcard Seneca Rocks Wv Hedrick's 4-u Motel/restaurant Dual View 1950'sSanta Barbara Ca Postcard "hotel Neal From Southern Pacific Depot" Hand-coloredBorger Tx Texas, Main Street Looking South, Congress Hotel, Rppc PostcardPostcard The Alba Apartment Hotel Miami Beach Florida FlRppc Brimfield Hotel And Monument Massachusetts Mass MaEagle Grove Iowa Ia C1950s Rppc Early Occidental Hotel, Railroad Depot, EnginesChina 1910' Pc Harbin / Hotel 'aburaya' Japanese To 'dairen Yamato Hotel'Sd - Black Hills South Dakota Rppc Postcard Sylvan Lake Hotel Custer State Park1940s Real Photo Postcard Park Hotel Shanghai China RppcPerry,fl-temple Theater And Masonic Lodge 1935 - Antique PostcardElwood Hotel Interior View St James Place At The Beach Atlantic City New JerseyMcconnellsburg Pennsylvania City Hotel Street View Antique Postcard K446092~rppc~otterpohl~cisco~land O' Lakes,wi~palmer Lake~trail's End Lodge~vilas CoAz Jerome - United Verde Works & Montana Hotel - Town & Valley ViewSwift Villa - Westminster Lodge On Lake Michigan , Saugatuck , Mi C.1940 Hotel Mahopac Private Bathing Pier. Lake Mahopac. N.y. Vintage Postcard Card Academy Lodge Nursing Home Poynette Wi 1960Rppc First Ave Iditarod Alaska Hardware & Hotel Signage Real Photo Postcard 1911Tamworth Peel Street & Post Office Hotel RppcEagle Bridge Ny D&h Railroad Station Switching Tower Real Photo Rppc Hotel BeerEstes Park Colorado~steads Ranch & Hotel In Moraine Park~note Bk~car~1941 Rppc Rppc Pt. Aux Barques Michigan Photograph Of The Hotel In 1920 Michigan HistoryLindstroms Hotel Cars Laerdal Sogn Norway 1910 Real Photo PostcardGreece, Evia, Aidipsos, Aedipsos, 209. Edipsos Hotel " Avra " By Nick StournarasC1930 Court House Hotel Washington Fairfax St Berkeley Springs Wv PostcardGreenwich, Ct ~ Greenwich Lodge ~ Photo & Art Greeting Pc Co., Pub. ~ C. 1920sBeacon Ny - Main Street Looking East From Melzingah Hotel- PostcardA View Of The Warren Hotel, Early Auto, Ashtabula OhBea British East Africa Mombassa Metropole Hotel D. V. Figueira Pc E20c K015Keansburg Nj Raritan Bay Hotel Antique Real Photo Postcard New Jersey Rppc AzoPostcard Aerial View Hotel Wicker Russells Point Ohio Oh