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After the war, cars superseded trains as the most common means of terrestrial travel in the United States.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

In97 Persia Enzély Hotel And Customs Office Postcard To Belgium 1902Fred Harvey Postcard Alvarado Hotel Lobby, Albuquerque, New Mexico H-3126Us California Disneyland Hotel Olympic Size Swimming Pool 55391-cHong Kong 1900 – Hotel America - Greetings From Hong KongFred Harvey Postcard Santa Fe Depot & Hotel, Belen, New Mexico H-2304 - 1923Postcard Las Chaves Hotel, East Vaughn, New Mexico - Fred Harvey Girls?Old Original Photograph Of Repulse Bay Hotel Hong Kong Dated 1945Canada~1900's Nanaimo B.c. ~ Church Street ~ Hotel Windsor ~hay Wagon~ Rppc1915 Kingsport Tennessee Hotel & Moving Pictures Movie Theatre Real Photo RppcGweedore Hotel Gweedore Postcard Blowing Rock Nc Postcard (9) Mayview Manor, Green Park Hotel+ Circa 1930-501907 Railroad Depot/hotel Oaktown In Indiana Carlisle/sullivan/vincennes Knox C.Zh389 Vintage 1913 Postcard Halliday Hotel And I.c. Depot Cairo IllinoisHilsen Fra Stavanger,norway,hotel Victoria,-3 Views,rogalund County,c.1898-1906Vtg 1930s "it" Cafe Clara Bow Rex Bell 3" Round Postcards Hollywood Plaza HotelEarly 1900s Rppc Russels Point Ohio Railroad Depot & Smiths Hotel Real Photo PosHotel? Vintage Street Scene Wilson Ny Rppc Real Photo PostcardReal Photo Postcard Street Scene & Winthrop Hotel, New London, Connecticut 1920s1907 Real Photo View- Glen Oak Hotel - Hurlock, Maryland MdChina Wei Hai Wei Snow Scene Harbour King’s Hotel Rp C.1920R.a. Donnelly Centennial Hotel Waretown Nj Barnegat Bay Fishing & Gunning GuidesReal Photo Postcard Agua Caliente Hotel, Tijuana, Mexico - Used In 19291913 Rppc Shimerville, Pa Lehigh Co. Hotel, Hh Arndt Prop., Neuwiller Beer SignSepia Postcard Showing The Old Viamede Hotel Stoney Lake, Kawartha Lakes, Ont. Ca Ghost Town Shasta Retreat Post Mark 1910 Historic Bldg Hotel Town Ex Pc LookRppc Pc Leicestershire = 3 Post Cards = Heather Church, Hall & Lodge UnusedRppc Pc Isle Of Wight = Sea View (hotel) Isle Of Wight (street Scene) Real PhotoSpringfield-donnelsville Oh~tv In Some Rooms~sandman Motel~geo Gagoudy~b&:wReal Photo Postcard The Alamogordo Hotel, Alamogordo, New Mexico Ca 1930Roadside Postcard Penn-daw Tourist Hotel Near Alexandria, Virginia Ca 1920sHong Kong, China ~ Peak Hotel Panoramic View, Real Photo Pc ~ C. 1910-1920s1905 Wooden Bridge Across Hillsboro River Tampa Bay Hotel In Distance FloridaPostcard In Culver Looking East From The Osborn HotelMercer Wisconsin~arapahoe Lodge~guys & Dog~boat Oar~having Best Time~1922 RppcHoldenville, Ok (i.t. = Indian Territory) Hotel Scott As Seen In 1906. Hughes CoMobile Alabama Aerial View Hotel St Andrew Trolley Train Antique Pc (y7866)Glasserton Lodge, Whithorn: Wigtownshire Postcard (c4135).1904 Landing Willow Point Hotel Greenwood Lake Ny Post Card Orange CountyC.1905 Degraw's Willow Point Hotel Greenwood Lake Ny Post Card Orange CountyRare Real Photo Postcard Canal Winchester Ohio Cherry HotelLobby Of Sunflower Hotel, Camp Chesterfield Indiana Association Of Spiritualists1920's Real Photo P-cards; Grace Coolidge & Game Lodge In Black Hills, S. DakotaBc – Victoria, Looking Ne From Pandora Avenue, Allies Hotel C.1920-1925 RppcCanada Rp Pc Fort Garry Hotel Winnipeg Series No 81Tn, Greeneville, Tennessee, Yellow Springs Mountain Retreat, CabinsPostcard - Northport Beach Hotel - Northport, MichiganC1900s Webster Springs West Virginia Postcard Webster Springs Hotel WvAz Grand Canyon - Yavapai Lodge - 1950's Old Cars - Fred Harvey50 Older Hotel And Motel Postcard LotMorocco Old U.b. Postcard Mogador Palm Tree House Hotel Marocco Africa EssaouiraChina Wei Hai Wei King’s Hotel (mainland) Pr. Photo C.1910Zh230 Vintage 1946 Rppc Eagle Nest Lodge New MexicoCuba Cienfuegos - Hotel Suiza 1907 Santo Domingo Cover PostcardOk, Ardmore, Oklahoma, Rppc, Stonewood Courts, Motel, Petrified Wood, Highway 77Greece Aidipsos Edipsos Hotel'aigli'Cornelian Hotel, Decatur, Alabama Al 1948 PostcardRppc Petoskey Michigan Pm 1939 Lake Grove Hotel On Walloon (k) Lake1916 Rppc Hotel Puritan Pyrite New York Ny Vinatge Real Photo Postcard100 Hotel, Motel, Restaurant Usa Post Card Postcard Lot, All Different 1907-70's2 1913 Spring City Pa Main Street W/ Trolley & Spring City Hotel Chester County