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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

China, Vintage Postcard 1920 Shanghai Palace Hotel, To Peking Pris. De GuerrePostcard - The Imperial Hotel, TokyoJapan Hakone Hotel Ad Card To Us 1946 Censored L27Rppc,1931, Old Cars, Mineola Hotel, Fox Lake, Il, Ill, Old PostcardRppc Of Lindbergh - Hauptman Trial Union Hotel - Flemington Nj - 1935086 - Goderich Ontario 1920s Hotel Bedford Bar Store Front Real Photo PostcardEarly 1900's Union House Kehres's General Store Hotel Rebuck Pa RppcOgden Utah Reed Hotel & Orpheum Theatre Cyanotype Post Card-undivided Back1910~vega,texas~hotel Oldham~n.j.whitfield~nr Hereford/tucumcari/amarillo AdrianB&w~1943~parksley,va~cooke St.~powell's Garage Gas Pumps~hotel~virgina~accomackRppc Of Plaza Hotel - Asbury Park Nj - C.1910Shoreham, Minnesota Mn Advertising Pettibone Lodge Anti Semitic PostcardTurkey -souvenir De Trebizonde- College Grec-hotel Chems-gusel Serai- Partial RrCirca 1910 Hotel Essick, Essick Heights Pa Rppc Photo Postcard, Lycoming CountyTurkey - Angaranen (angora)- Mosque Hadji Bayram -letter Hotel-soor Edt. RrHotel Orchard Postcard Holliston Ma Main House 1920s Massachusetts Color View1910s Hotel Castenada Las Vegas New Mexico Nm. Antique PostcardPostcardOutstanding Real Photo Palms Hotel Sarasota Fl. Movie Theatre Etc C19101910 Postcard: Saint James Hotel, Central Ave. - Superior, Wisconsin WiRppc Lake Tahoe From Echo Summit Lodge Highway 50 Wohlbruck PostcardYosemite National Park Ca Lobby At Glacier Point Hotel - Fire Place 1930s RppcRppc Lookoff Hotel On Road Leading To Cape Blomidon, Nova Scotia PostcardRppc, Fish House, Two Island Lodge, Schroeder, Minn, Mn, Old PostcardSouthern Pacific Rr Depot & Hotel, Bowie, Az, 1917Vintage Photo Postcard Catskill Mt House Hotel Catskill Mts Ny Early 1900s ViewLangsdorf Alligator Border Postcrd S507 San Carlos Hotel, Miami, Florida1913~lufkin,texas,tx~hotel Bonner~he&wt Depot Dynamited Msg~a. Nicks~angelinaOld Real Photo Postcard - Majestic Hotel Shanghai China EFergus Falls Mn Rp C1910 Park Hotel Street Scene Taxi Wagon Out FrontHong Kong Postcard - Hong Kong Hotel, Hong Kong1942 Charleston Mountain Nevada Lodge Real Photo Postcard - Woody Station WagonHotel Baldwin, Beach Haven, N.j. Lbi Black & White Albertype Old Autos Unused 1907 Century Hotel, Pittstown Nj Photo Postcard Rppc, Hunterdon CountyBaxter California Ca 1938 Rppc Baxter's Cottages Log Cabins Us Hwy 40 CampgroundRoss Teal Lake Lodge Hayward Wisconsin Postcard Reception Room1910 Postcard: Rosenheimer's Hotel - Cedar Lake, Wisconsin WiRppc 1900's Bay Center, Wa Harbor View Bay View Hotel Waterfront Boats & PeerEgypt Postcard Used Alexandria 1899 Hotel KhedivialBaton Rouge, La Motor Inn Hotel Courts Bernard 8770 PostcardA's Kansas City Athletics Municipal Baseball Stadium-31265-colonial Motel 2jh67Main Lodge Auto Cabin Camp @ Grand Canyon Nat'l Park Az, Fred Harvey - H4563Hotel Miramar Pass Christian Mississippi 1922Old Real Photo Postcard - Majestic Hotel Shanghai China BReadlyn Ia Rp C1910 Depot Hotel Readlyn Ne Iowa Nr Sumner Waverly Tripoli DenverTurkey / Constantinople - Advertising Card Of Hotel Brasserie Pera, 7x12 CmRhodesia-great Zimbabwe-hotelPelham, Nh Grand View House Hotel, Rppc 1910 Harris' Inn Real Photo PostcardVintage Postcards Rose Hall Intercontinental Hotel, Montego Bay, JamaicaRppc Norden, California Ca Sugar Bowl Ski Lodge Chair Lift Skiiers PostcardUnused B&w - Front View, Crockett Springs Hotel, Shawsville, Va, Nice Old Cars!Cannelton, Indiana In The Only Sunlight Hotel Photoette 1910s Postcard1909 Postcard: Timmer's Hotel - Cedar Lake, Wisconsin Wi1910 Realphoto Postcard: House/hotel - Long Lake, New York NyEmpire Hotel Saskatoon Sask. CanadaRppc Pearl Point On Beautiful Lake George, Ny Hotel Dock House W/ Pp Sign 1915Las Vegas, Nevada Nv Roadside Em-le Motel 1950s PostcardBlumenkranz Murida Hotel, Broadway & Riverside Blvd, Long Beach L.i. Ny 19401930s New Baronial Hotel, Nazareth, Pennsylvania *3 Diff* Grill LobbyCincinnati,ohio-palace Hotel Block-6th & Vine Street-kraemer Art Co.-c1908 3jh12