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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

Palestine 1910s Postcard Hotel Jerusalem In JaffaRoad In Front Of The Hotel Where Indian Troops Enter Peking Beijing China 1910sWall And Road In Front Of The Hotel In Peking Beijing China 1910s PhotoEarly Real Photo Town View/hotel - Ladysmith, Wisconsin WiImperial Hotel Tokyo Japan Designed By Frank Lloyd Wright Japanese1909 Crockett Springs Virginia Front View Of The Hotel - Shawsville AreaToms River New Jersey Nj Riverview Hotel-seaside Heights-old Cars1915-1930 Pc Hotel Harris Lincoln Highway Mcconnellsburg Pa Skaneateles Ny -glen Haven Hotel- Handcoloredl Postcard1 China Tientsin D' Arcs Hotel Early 1900 Rare View1926 The Culvermere From Culver Lake Nj New Jersey Branchville Canoeing At Hotel Vintage Postcard B/w Photo St. Rita Hotel Beach Haven, N.j. Free ShippingRppc Big Moose Ny Boat House Skilton Lodge Adirondack Park* Bedroom Prince Arthur Hotel Port Arthur Ontario CanadaUnpostd Real Photo Pc Calzona Hotel After Fire 1915 Needles Ca San Bernardino CoPhoto Postcard Rppc Of Granada Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida (air Mail)Los Gatos, California Real Photo Rppc Postcard Street Scene / Hotel Lyndon 1964* Parlour Prince Arthur Hotel Port Arthur Ontario CanadaRppc Geauga Lake Ohio Oh Hotel Grace - Old Cars - People - Pub:leiter Post Cord Early Real Photo Post Card, Valley Park Hotel, Valley Park, Mo. Canoes+Glasgow Junction, Ky: 1908: View Of Mentz Hotel: Barren CountyChangchun - Hsinking, Manchukuo, Manchuria China C1910s -yamato Hotel - Smr PcVintage Advertising Postcard Hotel Krikhuh Zur Habsburg Buenos Aires ArgentinaWisconsin Wi Real Photo Rppc Postcard C1910 Hammond Hotel GardinerVintage Rppc Entrance Tap Room Timberline Lodge Mt Hood Oregon Unused Postcard1960's Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge Oversized Concord Nh Hojo Restaurant AerialMyrtle Bank Hotel Kingston Jamaica Map John Walker Map PostcardMe Pleasant Island Lodge, Cupsuptic Lake, Point O-view - Rp RppcMe Pleasant Island Lodge, Interior - Rp Rppc1 China Tientsin Astorhouse Hotel, Use 1913 From Tsingtau To Berlin1912 Rppc Real Photo Queen Of The West Hotel @ Petite Lake, Antioch, IllinoisVintage Postcard: Collegeville, Pa. The Commercial Hotel ~ Repro?Va-new Market-mt. Top Haven Restaurant & Motel-h43639Me Pleasant Island Lodge, Cupsuptic Lake From Bald Mountain - Rp Rppc1960's Bongi's South Shore Motel Oversized Postcard Duxbury Ma Oversized Old Unused Postcard - Holiday Inn Hotel/motel - Natchez, Mississippi/msBoise, Idaho Id Main Street And Hotel Idanha Udb Pre 1907 PostcardBay Shore Long Island Ny Advertising Linen For Cooper's Hotel Clinton Ave. W MapGreenville South Carolina Poinsett Hotel Lobby Antique Postcard V12025Turkey / Fez Label " Prinkipo - BVintage Deshler And Wallick Hotel Complimentary Gillette Razor With Case A Bades1904 Newchwang Yingkou Hotel Manchuria House Used Pc China Liaoning Udb Postcard,grand Hotel Pomerenk,molde,norway,1908Mn - 1910s Rare! Real Photo Maryland Hotel Alexandria Minnesota - Douglas CountyAntique 1915 Real Photo Postcard-savoy Hotel Frankfort,kansas -rppcAntique Orange County St. Ann's Inn Santa Ana California Hotel BookletKy-mammoth Cave-mammoth Cave Hotel-early-h43753Cuba - Rare! 1920’s Hotel Isla De Cuba In Havana, Cuba - La Habana - Capitol1912 " Hotel Flemington, Flemington,n.j. "Albany Ga~1912 View St Nicholas HotelPueblo, Co The Lobby Of The Hotel VailUs Wyoming Dubois Yellowstone Service And Motel Us Highways 26 & 287 Circa 1959Newcastle, County Down, N. Ireland ~ Slieve Donard Hotel ~ Circa 1907-14Rppc Meeker Park Lodge, Colorado Co St. Vrain Hwy 1940s Sanborn PostcardThe Motel Inn San Luis Obispo California Princeton New Jersey Forest MathewsNorway, Kristiana, Oslo, Grand Hotel, Street Scene, Business SectionWater Street & Commercial Hotel In Liverpool Pa 1907De Witt Hotel, Ault, Colorado Co Rppc 1914 PostcardCanada Ontario The Kearney House Hotel Scene Parry Sound District PostcardHotel Bennington Drugs Bennington Vt Postcard 1920s