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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

Rppc-bedford Pa-army Ambulance Corps-hoffman's Hotel-lincoln Highway-1918-autosReal Photo Railroad Postcard Of The Depot & Norrigwock Hotel At Beaver River, NyHotel Swastika Lakeview Idaho Mining Company Lake Pend Oreille Vintage Id RppcBig Moose Ny New York C1941 Rp Skilton's Lodge - Lake TwitchelCa.1912 - Dining Room, Hotel Cape May, Cape May, N.j.Rare Capitola Ca View Of Beach From Hotel California Original PhotographPostcard Ca Anaheim Disneyland Hotel Swimming Pool 1960's Pinkerton Photo1910-18 Era Postcard Metropolitan Hotel Sulphur OklahomaHotel Cape May,cape May NjDoylestown Pa-monument House-hotel-1913-bucks County PennsylvaniaJa566 Vintage Rare Postcard Menu Hotel Agua Caliente Tijuana MexicoMontana State Prison Band Deer Lodge Montana Rppc Msp Vintage Real Photo1950's French Lick Hotel Jazz Festival Souvenir Program - Paper Parksville, Youngs Gap House, Catskill Mts. Borscht Belt Hotel 1920South Canon Colorado Discontinued Post Office Si4 Real Photo Mining Cabins 1912Street Scene Heppner Oregon 1913 Rppc First National Bank Palace Hotel Photo PcThe Luddy Hotel Geraldine Montana Rppc Mt Dirt Street Auto & People Real Photo 1906 West Chester Pa Eagle Hotel * Early Chester County PostcardPeking, China, Street View, Hotel, Interesting Message, Real Photo Pc Dated 1922Lot Of 100 + Motel Hotel Postcard Vintage Standard Pc's Roadside IndependentsDated 1909 Rppc Panacea Horse-drawn Streetcar At Hotel Real Photo PostcardCanada Ontario Halton Burlington Hotel Raymond Real Photo 1908Rppc Rushford, Mn, Minn, Hotel, Wagons, Hot Air Balloon Early 1900's Pc Postcard1915 Hotel Detroit Minneapolis Mn Fire Destroy-hose Cart Horak Photo PostcardOakley Beach Hotel Cambridge Md Maryland Vintage PostcardTempleton Ma Photo Postcard Narragansett Hotel Baldwinsville Massachusetts 1905* Double Bedroom Prince Arthur Hotel Port Arthur Ontario Canada * Parlor Prince Arthur Hotel Port Arthur Ontario Canada 1920s 30s Rppc Capitola Ca By The Sea Pacific Hotel Beach Santa Cruz PlaygroundStreet Scene Neville Saskatchewan Pharmacy Hotel Trading Store Vintage RppcPostcard Ca Death Valley Junction Amargosa Hotel Rp Photo Pacific Borax 1936Ca Ghost Town Shasta Retreat Post Mark 1910 Historic Bldg Hotel Town Ex Pc Look1953 Rppc Beach At Oakwood Hotel Lake Wawasee Syracuse,indianaLincoln Hotel & Old State Bank, Evansville, Indiana - Vintage Postcard 1917Rppc Wyo Wyoming Medicine Bow The Virginian Hotel Florida Fl Clearwater Beach Hilton Hotel Stan Musial Biggie's Postcard Old View1960s Matchbook Stardust Inn Motel Restaurant Old Cars Color Photo Waldorf Md Rp St Aubin Jersey Interior Of Sommerville Hotel Bar Area Posted 1960Old 1910's Windsor Hotel Building Sibley Iowa Ia Real Photo Postcard RppcRppc-fort Collins Co-colorado-college Ave-northern Hotel-colo-larimer County Zh164 Vintage Postcard Acoma Motel Rt "66" Albuquerque New MexicoHotel Hanson Spring Grove Minnesota Mn Rppc Photo Postcard Circa 1915Postcard Square Dancing At Camp Washington Lodge, Bellport, Long Island, Ny* Interior Retunda Hotel Renfrew Ontario Canada C. 1907 Corner Of Dining Room Hotel El Tovar View Grand Canyon, Az Udb Postcard1906 Postcard Copper Queen Hotel Bisbee Arizona Az Publisher HumphriesStore & Hotel Richmond Campground Maine Me 1912 Rppc Real Photo PostcardHotel Stratford Roanoke Va Vintage 1909 Virginia PostcardPostcard/brochure Miami Carver Hotel, Nw 3rd Avenue. Fl Deco Retro InteriorsRppc-redding Ca Cal-street View-cascade Theatre-hotel-california-autos-shasta 1920's Rppc Hotel Golfmore Lobby Grand Beach -- Postcard Unposted -- MichiganPostcard Red Bank Motel Chattanooga Tn Linen1960s Christian Admiral Hotel Bulldozed Double Deck Bus Old Cars Cape May Nj Pc Birch Hill Resort Hotel, Presque Isle, Mi, RppcWitty Studio Photo Card~hotel Dejug~funny Signs~keystone Cop 23 Skiddo BeltRppc Mountain View Hotel, Gatlinburg, TnTx Amarillo Texas Ranch 66 Motor Hotel Postcard Route 66Camden South Carolina~horse & Wagons Pulling Up To Hotel Camden 1910 B&wTexas Tx Postcard 1928 Harlingen Reese-wil-mond Hotel Cars* Old Advertising Postcard * Hotel Elysee * Famous Monkey Bar * New York Ny Nyc