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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

1910s Rppc Paper Moon Cute Boy Hat Peacoat Annex Hotel St Louis Missouri Mo LadyMakado Hotel, Yokohama Necishi, Japan PostcardSouth Carolina Sc Pelzer Spring Park Hotel Postcard Old Vintage Card View Post1908 Farmville Va - Hotel Prince Edward + Walthall Bro. Bakery Sign & Black ManThe Breakers Hotel Beach Haven Nj 19411911 Rppc Multiview Royal Frontenac Hotel Fire Disaster Frankfort MichiganEarly Unused Postcard, Farmville Virginia, Street Scene, Post Office, HotelMichillinda Mi C1910 Beach Scene Cabins Lake Michigan Nr Muskegon & ShelbyGermania Hotel On Route 144 In Germania Pa OldBic Quebec - Rppc Hotel Laval . - 1922 Belle ArchitextureTown Scene & Swift River Hotel.....enfield, MassNew Mexico Lamy The Placita At El Ortiz Hotel Sfrr Fred Harvey Nm Postcard 1918Phostint Card View Hotel Castaneda Las Vegas New Mexico Nm PostcardPythian Castle Hall, Lodge No. 10, Norfolk, Va Postcard RppcTown View Santa Fe Hotel Belen New Mexico Nm Fred Harvey PostcardAntique Plate Marked Broadway Central Hotel New York On Front, Greenwood ChinaEntrance To Hotel Cape May, Cape May Nj 19081930's Rppc Glacier Point Hotel & Half Dome View Yosemite Valley, CaliforniaOconomowoc Wi Rp 1906 Buffalo Zoo Lodge Se Wis Near Milwaukee Watertown Unused Rppc Mt. Storm, West Virginia - Mills Restaurant & Motel Wv Real Photo BwBaldwin Michigan Stevens Lodge Mobile Gas Station 1945 Real Photo G-340Postcard Scene Head Spring Yadkin River Toward Green Park Hotel Green Park NcPostcard, Baronial Hotel, Nazareth, Pa. 1910Kobe Portpia Hotel,monorail Japan Postcard.Eigth Street Looking East From Hotel Elliot Clanton, Alabama Pm1908Bree's Royal Hotel Jersey Channel Islands EnglandOcean Grove Nj, The Alaska Hotel 1906Rppc,antigua,guatemala,c.a.vista Panoramica From Hotel Manchen,biener Photo,'20sTobins Harbor Landing Isle Royale Mi Dock Boats LodgePostcard Bookshop At Briarcliff Lodge At Briarcliff Manor~92538 Postcard Rare Carolina Beach Nc Souvenir Folder Unused 40s Hotel Bame Fishing Hamburg Pa, Berks Co., The Regal Hotel, East EndGalveston Tx Gaido's Motel, 38th And Beach Blvd Texas J. Rudy Neunlist Chrome PoPost Card 1908 Averill Park Ny To Albany Ny - Sunset Lodge - P082Hotel Cape May, Cape May, N. J. - Pub. J. K. Hand,cape May, N. J.Cornwall,ontario,canada Hotel Dieu HospitalPalm Springs, Ca. El Mirador Hotel. Cactus Garden. Vintage White Border PostcardAlvarado Hotel Main Entrance, 1950s Cadillac, Albuquerque, New Mexico PostcardBrazil - Ppc - Uma Vista Do Grande Hotel Internacioal - Rio De Janeiro, C1903Alexandria Mn Rp 1914 Hotel Letson House Taxi Kent's Bus & Transfer Line WagonsRppc Beaumont,quebec,canada, Manor Beaumont, CabinsBarron Wi/kurshner House Hotel/dog/photo By Denison/printed Photo Postcard/1907Hawley, Minnesota -- City Hotel ... Rppc1950's Sexy Pin Up Woman Kauai Surf Hotel Hawaii Postcard 7784 BikiniTraverse City Mi Real Photo Postcard Trav-o-tel Motel Tourist Cabins Indonesia Jakarta Hotel Duta Indonesia Hotel Des Indes 1950s-1960s PostcardCharleston Wv Holley Hotel Quarrier Street C1920 PostcardHonolulu Hi Seaside Hotel Waikiki #116/c C1910 Postcard1940 Postcard Hotel Charles " Bryan's Newest Hotel " Bryan TexasGreat Northern Hotel Chicago Illinois 1933 World's Fair Information CardDetroit Lakes Minnesota Mn C1925/30s Rppc Edgewater Beach Hotel Docks, Shores ++Red Lodge Montana Mt 1938 Rppc Birdseye View, Town Main Street, Railroad, HomesRppc~sportsman Hotel, Glennie, Mi~n528 Postcard Hotel Cape May City Nj Hawley, Minnesota -- Hotel Building ... RppcUs California San Francisco Pre Earthquake Palace Hotel 1904 To Pegli, Italy239 - Preston Ontario 1940s Kress Mineral Springs Hotel Real Photo Postcard RppcPhoto Of The Alamos Hotel At Sonora Mexico 1964 PcKessler's Hotel Pool & Social Hall Morristown NjLaplata Md, Hotel Laplata, Early Pc