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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

Early Disneyland Hotel Postcard, Disney, Early Disneyland Hotel Postcard, Disney, Iii Early Disneyland Hotel Postcard, Disney, IvNew York Plaza Hotel Doorknob - Early 1900s ***free Shipping***Cottage City, Oak Bluffs, Ma ~ First Hotel Built ~ Chamberlain, Pub. ~ C. 1906 Early Disneyland Hotel Postcard, Disney, IiScarce Old Burgess View Of The Gretna Virginia Hotel - Pittsylvania CountyCahirciveen, Ireland, Leslie's Hotel, Horsedrawn Wagon, C1910Station And Hotel In Needles California Published By Fred Harvey Ca Early Disneyland Hotel Postcard, Disney, %dk-3391913~morehead City,nc~atlantic Hotel~fishing Catch~carteret Co. North CarolinaFranklin, West Virginia Postcard Thompsons Motel W/ Esso Gas Station C1960sRppc C.r. Childs The Oak Park Hotel Pistakee Lake Oak Park, IlC.1905 Hotel Carnegie Johnson City, Tn Tenn Tennessee Nice Postcard!! Early Disneyland Hotel Postcard, Disney, P706611905 Jas. Hamlin Dry Goods Store Rhinebeck Ny W Ioof Lodge PostcardGilroy, California (ca) - Gilroy Hot Springs Hotel & Guests - 19124 Old Rppc High Sierras Mammoth Twin Lakes Tamarack Lodge Top Of The World Peak Atlantic City Hotel Halcyon Hall Phototype Postcard Posted 1911 Street View2110 Tokyo Imperial Hotel Wright Vintage Tinted Postcard C. 19301908 Las Vegas Nm New Mexico Postcard Cancel El Porvenir Hotel Exterior Cx106Old Troy & New England Railway Trolley Cedarhurst Hotel West Sand Lake New YorkQueen's Hotel Cochrane Ontario Real Photo By Black 42 Men In ShotTate Tn 1933 Long Gone Mineral Hill Spring Hotel Vintage Tennessee Resort Gem+++Wv West Virginia Huntington Hotel Farr Scene Cabell & Wayne County PostcardPostcard Latvia -libau Liepaja -hotel De Hambourg -concert Garten 042342-48Pre-1907 Main Street Moclips, Washington Northern Pacific Railway Depot, HotelMadison,wi Wisconsin The Cardinal (hotel), Hot And Cold Water In All RoomsOhio Postcard 1905 Put-in-bay South Bass Island Hotel Victory Porch Lake ErieAtlantic City New Avalon Hotel Phototype Postcard Posted 1908 Street ViewAlexandra Hotel Molde Norway Early CardCalifornia Ca Postcard 1915 San Francisco Interior St Dominic Hotel ApartmentsAlligator Border Postcard S589 Hotel Windsor And Hemming Park Jacksonville, FlTaloga, Oklahoma--real Azo Photo Postcard Of Hotel, Band, Livery Barn, Abt. 1910The Stanley Hotel Estes Park Colorado Sanborn Photo Norway - Ppc - "oienes Hotel" Turtegro, 19071925 Hotel Ormond Beach Florida Golf Travel Brochure Norway Skien & Hotel Augustin Old Unused H Abel Real Photo PostcardPostcard Ship Steamer Virginia C & O Train Depot Hotel Warwick Newport News VaRuidoso, Nm Alto, New Mexico 1930 Rppc Postcard Navajo Lodge, Dance HallVintage Ocean View Dining Room (hotel) Key West Fl Florida Postcard Riverside Hotel Reno Nevada Nv Rppc 1908 Real Photo PostcardTrenton Falls New York Hotel Trenton Built By John Sherman 1822 Postcard C1900sInterior Scene Of New Cell House Jail Montana State Prison Deer Lodge Mt RppcRppc Real Photo Postcard The Lodge At Belle Isle Camp On Isle Royale, MichiganHouston Astros Baseball Stadium Astrodome Marriott Hotel Advertising PostcardRppc Lake Bonaparte New York Hotel Tennis Ct Beach Photo Nr Carthage South Creek3 Rehoboth Beach De Del-belhaven-henlopen Hotel-silver Lake Fish Pier-delaware1902 Put-in-bay Ohio, Hotel Victory Color PostcardPostcard 5033 Rppc Posted 1921 Gibson City Illinois HotelMeadville Pa~conneaut Lake~ferry Hotel~dock~terry House Porch~1907 RotographBritish Columbia, Prince Rupert, Prince Rupert Hotel, Feed Store, C1910 Linen Postcard Hotel Mountainaire In Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas~98385 Mr Fancy Cancel Unused Real Photo Vintage Lakefront Hotel Cooperstown Ny? #53Texas Tx Postcard Roadside Dallas Hotel Mexico BuildingHotel Riverview H. U. Parrish 1910 Merritt Island Postmark Florida Fl Postcard Linen Deco Postcard Tudor Hotel Miami Beach1910-1918 Era Postcard Henson Hotel Woodward OklahomaKorea 1910' Pc seoul 京城 朝鮮hotelChicago World's Fair St Clair Hotel 1930s Linen Advertising Postcard