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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

Centre Cliff Hotel Southwold Suffolk Golf Shooting Fishing 1900s PostcardWinchester, Va. Piccadilly Diner, Block W. Of Geo. Wash Hotel. Vintage PostcardBrownsville Pa-new Girard Hotel-market Street-fayette County Pennsylvania Capitola Ca Hotel, Beach And Venetian Construction Rare Original PhotographRppc Hubbard Band And Hotel, Hubbard, Oregon, Instruments, Horns, DrumsPostcard Miami Florida/fl Breaking Ground For Royal Palm Hotel View 1906?Normandie French Line Cgt Transat Lounge Furniture At Conrad Hilton Hotel MintC1913 Photos 24 Different Fallen Leaf Cabins Casino @ Tallac Lake Tahoe & MoreUpper Black Eddy Hotel,bucks County,real Photo* The New Royal Hotel Picton Ontario Canada Cape May Nj New Jersey Arnolds Hotel Rare Early Trolley WowView Of Hotel Neal From Southern Pacific Depot Santa Barbara California C.1910 Alep Aleppo Rppc Hotel Baron Cars Syria 50s1920c~sikeston,mo~historic Marshall-dunn Hotel~malone &s New Madrid Nr Rr Depot Art Nouveau Colour Postcard Of Bertolini's Palace Hotel, Napoli, Italy, C1900New Mexico Nm Lamy El Ortiz Hotel Lobby Mantle Piece Postcard Old Vintage CardRppc The New National Hotel At Mt Clemens Mi Macomb CountyBurnt Cabins Pa Real Photo Postcard Birds Eye View Fulton County Disneyland Hotel Postcard Tower Building 1960's Chrome 55389-cNapa Ca Cal Napa Hotel, Old Cars, People, Bicycle, Horse Team, Signs EarlyPostcard, Real Photo, Avilla, Indiana, St. James Hotel, Childs Photo Point Comfort Hotel & Lawn, Confectionery & Ice Cream Store, Fox Lake Il 1912New Mexico Nm Lamy Hotel El Ortiz Lobby Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard Rppc Railroad Train Postcard 1913 Petoskey, Michigan G.r.&i. #4 Arlington HotelGakona, Ak - Gakona Lodge - RppcCirca 1906 Rppc Hotel The Franklin Inn Franklin Ny Real Photo PostcardHolsworthy Church White Hart Hotel People Horse & Cart Motor Van Chapman Rp '30sSpuzzum B.c. Canada Real Photo Postcard Alexandra Lodge C. 1930s* Grill Room Prince Arthur Hotel Port Arthur Ontario Canada Rppc Lake Forest Illinois Il Deerpath Inn Hotel 1931 Kenilworth Lake BluffMt Gretna Pa-hotel Conewago Adv Pc-1926 Rate Schedule-lebanon CountyUndivided Back Postcard Tarpon Inn Texas Port Aransas Hotel Gulf Coast Tx 1900Greece 1910 Portaria Volos Hotel Theoxenia Postcard Cover Stournaras1909 Posted Danish West Indies Embossed Pc, Hotel Du Commerce - St. ThomasPennsylvania, Pa, White Haven, Split Rock Lodge 1947 Real Photo PostcardSaugatuck Michigan, Bird's Cabins & Cottages, 1940's PostcardOld Buckroe Beach Va Real Photo Postcard Rppc - Buckroe Hotel & Bathing HouseC1910 Howard's Mineola Hotel Fox Lake Illinois Postcard Il Mchenry Pistakee BayAmerican House Hotel-hamburg, Pa ?-rppc-1900s Era Real Photo PostcardAddison Pa-hotel Addison-dexter Silvercraft-route 40-somerset County* Pacific Hotel North Bay Ontario Canada 1907 Warm Springs Bath County Virginia View Of One Horse Buggy In Front Of HotelNy Adirondacks Brant Lake The Palisades HotelAltoona Pa-colonial Hotel Lobby-blair County PennsylvaniaBc €C.1920 New Fort Pierce Hotel Fort Pierce Fl Post CardView Of Depot And Hotel Bureau Il Ill Illinois Rppc 1912C1910 Real Photo Pc Hotel Cement Solano Co Ca Shinkle Unposted Rare Ghost TownNorway Norge Trondheim Trondhjem - Hotel D'angleterre Triple Vignette PostcardRppc-braeburn Pa-hotel View-new Kensington Beer Sign-1908-westmoreland County1910 Rppc - Hotel, Lombard Il, Stone Building W/ Horse & Buggy ActivityGreece 1910 Portaria Volos Hotel Theoxenia Postcard Cover StournarasRppc-arnold Pa-arnold House Hotel-1911-westmoreland County Pennsylvania Rppc-addison Pa-central Hotel-street View-1905-somerset County PennsylvaniaRppc-arnold Pa-commercial Hotel-street View-'10-westmoreland County PennsylvaniaNew Hampshire Nh Vintage Real Photo Postcard Rppc North Hampton, Nortons Cabins1974 Abu Dhabi Hilton Hotel Used Uae Pc United Arab Emirates DubaiPostcard Grand Hotel Og Norges Bank Under Bygning Kristiansund Norway~94174 Postcard, Real Photo, Murdo, South Dakota, Gem Hotel, Lobby Interior Norway Skien Hotel Augustin Etc.. Old Unused Real Photo Abel Postcard