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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

Vintage 1954 Rppc Street Scene Jellico Tennessee Tenn Postcard Hotel CafeHong Kong Photo Postcard: Fire Station Peninsula Hotel Ymca Kowloon Bus C.1950Grandview Point Hotel. Bedford, Pa. Rppc~~ Rppc Home Motel ~ Finest In Las Vegas ~ La Highway ~ Phone 311 ~~Cabin John Bridge Hotel Plate1922 Postcard Manhasset Hotel Seaside Park N.j. Postcard 105Alligator Border Pc S604 Duvall Hotel,post Office,castle Hall,bank,jacksonvilleCuba - 1934 Hotel Packard In Havana, Cuba - Capitol In Distance - La Habana Kipp's Parkway Hotel, Bronx, Ny PostcardSeaside Park Nj Hotel Manhasset PostcardWildwood Crest, New Jersey Postcard Di Lido Resort Motel Pool & Room Views 1970sPotsdam Germany Hotel Restaurant Zum Einsiedler 1910 PostcardScotland Postcard - Islay Hotel - Port Ellen 1905Real Photo Postcard, Riverside Hotel & Casino (line Of Old Cars), Reno, NevadaPostcard 5 Views The Imperial Hotel, Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island LighthouseHistoric Image By Brock-higgins Of Old Miramar Hotel Near Santa Barbara * Rppc *Bay Head Nj, Greenville Arms Hotel1920 Realphoto Postcard: Prince Of Wales Hotel Dining Room - Waterton Lakes ParkHotel Royal, Menomonie Wisconsin Wi 1905 Stamped With Writing Vintage PostcardCanada Camera Products Pc Grand Beach Hotel G.b. #6Vintage 1964 Motel Waubee Lodge Resort Paul Bunyan Lakewood Wisconsin Old PhotoVintage Postcard New Lynn Hotel Seymour Indiana In - Van De Wall Music Co Publ.Balls Ferry Shasta Dpo Redding Ca Hotel Central Lodging Photo Post Card RppcFlume Creek Lodge, Dunsmuir California, 1940's Cars, Vintage RppcHotel Idanha Redding California Rppc Mailed 1913 Millville CalRisque Comic Postcard 1930s Nylons Stockings French Knickers Seaside Hotel Theme1910’s Very Rare! Advertising Card Hotel Isla De Cuba Havana, Cuba - La HabanaRppc, Santa Barbara, Ca, Del Mar Hotel, Vintage Car, 1925 Earthquake DamageLake Hopatcong Nj Air View Suomi Hovi Hotel Annex Bowling Alley Postcard4 Early Clarksburg, Wv Pc, Postcards, Double North View, Waldo Hotel, HospitalOcean City Md St Rose Summer Home Hotel Inn Lighthouse Rinn Baltimore PostcardPostcard Lee-jackson Hotel, New Market, Virginia - Circa 1920sFox Lake Illinois Ladies Parlor Lunds Hotel Childs Co Il1915 Era Cuba Railroad Co Publisher Hotel Antilla Antilla Cuba Beautiful UnusedYokohama Japan: C.1910-15 The Grand Hotel Vintage Postcard H.e. Manwarino Mgr.1914 Rppc - Warren Hotel - Warren, Ill. - C. R. Childs - ChicagoCuba 105-habana -1910 Hotel Florida-the Yard, Havana.C.1950 Rppc Postcard Street View Of The Latchis Hotel, Brattleboro, Vt.Wisconsin Wi Madison Edgewater Hotel Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard PcMaud/cincinnati,ohio-sohio Motel/restaurant-us Route 25-dixie Highway-1930s Kk55Pair 1940s Post Cards, 1 Real Photo, Grand View Lodge, Gull Lake, Brainerd, Mn. The Oakland Hotel Oxford, Michigan Vintage Postcard1926 Postcard--new Mexico--gallup--navajo Indians In Front Of Navajo Hotel-childChina 1907 Shanghai Chinese Hotel, Arrival Of A ViceroyKhartoum Sudan Tourists & Ivory Sellers Grand Hotel 4 Photo Postcards C.1930sA Double Pc Panoramic View Of The Clarendon Hotel & Daytona Beach Fl RppcRppc Port Isabel Texas 1940s Purdys Courts Motel Cameron County Gulf Coast The Delano Hotel, Burlington, Iowa Ia 1907 PostcardLazy Hour Motel Flagler Beach Florida Multiview Posted 1985 Chrome PostcardBandung Hotel Swarha Cars Java Indonesia 1958 Wolff SchoemakerRppc Alix Alberta Canada 1920s Azo Man In Landscape Imperial HotelReal Photo Postcard Crowd At Main St. Hotel On Field Day Hardwick MinnesotaDetroit Michigan~hotel Yorba~west Lafayette~classic Cars In Street~1950s PsHotel Heidel, Tucson, Arizona Post Card 1908, Street Scene, RoadsideRppc Royal Hibernian Hotel Dublin Ireland Hotel Graystone San Francisco California - 1909 Postcard 66 Geary StreetChester Ns-lovett House Hotel-ox Drawn Carriage-blue Nose Series-hand Colored5 Hubbards Ns-cove-lake-houses-hotel-sailing-lighthouse-nova ScotiaBamforth Comic Postcard 1950s Just Married Honeymoon Seaview Hotel Wedding NightBelmar Nj The Brunswick Postcard Hotel And Home Pleasures