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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

Kowloon Hong Kong China~peninsula Hotel~night View~real Photo PostcardCalifornia Ca San Diego Mecca Motel Postcard Old Vintage Card View Standard Post2 - Olcott Beach. Ny International Station Trolley Cars / Hotel AnnexRounton Grange, The Lodge Real Photographic Postcard (j Ross Of Whitby)(m1285)Boise, Idaho Rppc Photo Postcard Main Street Fox Theatre Empress Hotel C1930sPut-in-bay Ohio Postcard "hotel Victory Park" Natatorium Building C1900s UnusedEstes Park, Colorado, The Stanley Hotel Postcard 1900s1900s Kobe Grand Hotel Postcard Japan Japon Japanese Hong Kong Vintage Ppc 1919 - Peace Celebration Day - Hong Kong HotelLot (9) Early Ynp Yellowstone National Park Postcards Inn Hotel Station Cv9362Leithen Lodge: Peeblesshire Postcard (c28047)Muskoka - Muskoka Lakes Navigation & Hotel Company Limited Passenger TicketCuba Rare 1950's Hotel Habana Hilton Postcard Lot - Official Advertising HavanaNew Arrowhead Hotel Construction ~ Inlet ~ Hamilton County ~ Ny New York ~ RppcRare Alexandria, Minnesota Rppc Hotel Blake InteriorOuter Court, Hotel Ponce De Leon St. Augustine Fl Alligator Border S553 PostcardChina Old Postcard Shanghai Chinese Hotel To Heilbronn Germany 1911 !!Stoneboro Pa-hotel Clarence-mercer County Pennsylvania Muskoka - Muskoka Lakes Navigation & Hotel Company Limited Steamer SagamoAtlantic City Nj - Elberon Hotel & Road Map Of New Jersey- PostcardTyrone Pennsylvania Arlington Hotel Street View Antique Postcard K63622Tionesta Creek And Bridge Show House And Sheffield Hotel Sheffield Pa. 1927 PostOct 1891 - Walnut, Ia - Lodge & Kincaid - Stoves, Hardware & Tinware - Adv LtrhdFork's Hotel Loveland Estes Park Co Rare Antique Pc Ca. 1910sNov 1891 - Walnut, Ia - Lodge & Kincaid - Stoves, Hardware & Tinware - Adv LtrhdReal Photo - Union Hotel And Post Office - Prospect, Ny (beach Of Remsen)Wisconsin, Wi, Three Lakes, Butternut-franklin Lake Lodge 1928 Real Photo PcOld Brownsville Pa. "the Neck" Monongahela Hotel & Many Businesses PostcardCape May Nj Postcard Lot Of 5 Admiral And Christian Admiral Hotel3 Vintage China Photo Post Cards - Majestic Hotel, Shanghai (ll76)Sea Breeze Hotel, Tybee Island, Ga Georgia - 1912 PostcardVintage Photograph '16 Glenwood Mission Inn Hotel Riverside California Old PhotoBaseball Advertising Pcs: Francisco Grande Hotel, Ariz #2; Giants Spring Tr '60sBaseball Advertising Pcs: Francisco Grande Hotel, Ariz #1; Giants Spring Tr '60sRppc Hairpin Turn Lake Tahoe California Echo Summit Lodge Postcard Post CardChicago Illinois~bismarck Hotel Garden Restaurant @ Night~1912 Brooks Photo RppcPasadena California Route 66 Hyatt Lodge 1966 Gto Cars Advertising PostcardC1910 Postcard; Crane's Hotel & Annex, El Verano Ca Sonoma County PostedNappanee Indiana - Real Photo Postcard Coppes Hotel 1909 - People - Street ViewLos Angeles California Route 66 River Glen Motor Hotel Advertising PostcardArcadia California Santa Anita Motor Inn Motel Route 66 Vintage PostcardRppc-atlantic City Nj-lucy The Elephant-margate-hotel-unique-new Jersey RoadsideRppc-elkland Pa-hotel View-tioga County Pennsylvania Real PhotoThe Ebert House - Braddock Heights, Md ~ New Hotel ~ Multi-view Vintage Card1920s+ Lincoln Highway, Grand View Point Hotel Lookout Bedford Pa Hotels AirshipVintage Postcard Orient Hotel At Bairnsdale Victoria 1900s Rppc C53/ Monroe Washington Wa Rppc Real Photo Postcard C'50 Autos Savoy Hotel Ellis21909 Dpo 1874-1919 Chico Mt Cancel Chico Hot Springs Hotel Montana PostcardSands Motel Postcard Us Highway 66 Elk City Oklahoma 19633 Vintage China Photo Post Cards - Majestic Hotel, Shanghai (ll77)China, Hong Kong, Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui, Salisbury Road And The Peninsula HotelDurham North Carolina~hotel Carrolina~1905 Postcard~tuckYosemite Mariposa California Pillsburys Pictures Glacier Point Hotel Photo RppcChina Vintage Ppc Hankow Astor House Hotel Stamped 1c DragonColima, Gran Hotel California~~ Rppc C.1934 ~ Hotel Nipton ~ Near Las Vegas, Nevada ~ Oakes 352 ~~1910 Paso Robles Hot Springs Hotel San Louis Obispo Ca 2 Post Cards1905 Paso Robles Hot Springs Hotel San Louis Obispo Ca Junker Prop. 2 Post Cards1950 Lakeside Lodge Muskoka Lake Rosseau Brochure & Rate Schedule Cabins CottagePostcards 2 Different Rock Pa Mountain Side Hotel Greetings From Postmark Rock