Iconic American Motels

Posted by Sarah Seippel on

The History of the American Motel

You have seen them in movies, and you have read about them in books.  With their big flashy signs in neon wording, motels are the epitome of American culture, but what makes a motel a motel and not a hotel? 

The Origin

The motel system appeared when the transportation revolution picked up.  More people were settling in different cities, and more and more people were traveling between these different cities to find economic growth.  The increase in travel meant that people needed an inexpensive place to stay for a night or two while out on the road.  Because the system was originally designed for the stereotypical motorist, it was coined the term “motor hotel”, or motel.  The layout of a motel was designed in the outdoors, while hotels doors were along a hallway inside a building.

The Holiday Inn

One of the most iconic motels in America’s history in the Holiday Inn.  While it is much larger hotel chain now, it only had three locations when it opened in 1991.  The idea of this “hotel express system” was to reinvent the hotel system.  While motels were convenient for travel, they were not so accommodating and budget-friendly when you had a family of seven, including five children.  This was the case for father Kemmons Wilson.  He took his family on a vacation, and long story short, he was outraged at being charged for every child at every roadside lodging, not to mention the lack of accommodations.  Wilson decided to create a lodging industry that would accommodate families, and he planned to conclude standardized room size (with a bathroom), free in-room television, telephones, ice machines, restaurants, and no charge for children under the age of twelve who were staying with their parents.  Due to a lack of funds, only three locations opened in 1991; however, Wilson evolved the Holiday inn by forming a partnership with Gulf Oil and Pan American Airways, which helped he to open up another two-hundred-fifty location within the next few years.

Our Photograph:

Taken in Phoenix, Arizona; this illustration of Ivory Places Motor Lodge was featured on the front of a beautiful antique postcard from 1952. Sunlight streams down onto the buildings, and palm trees decorate the perimeter of the hotel and sidewalks, making this little lodge a wonderful destination for a summertime excursion. Beside the rightmost building, an automobile is pulled up to the side with a small table and umbrella placed several feet in front, allowing visitors to relax and keep cool during their visits. Next to a palm tree, a large signboard is attached to a pole, and the name of the lodge is written in a large print font. Looking at the photograph, the viewer immediately feels as if they have been transported to the sunny streets of Arizona and are enjoying a relaxing summertime vacation.

This postcard illustration not only provided visitors with a fun way to show off their travels, but also served as a means to entice people to visit the lodge. The drawing was done with the utmost care and professionalism in order to demonstrate the lodge's grandeur to the most realistic extent. Lodges were invented in the US between the 1930s and 40s as road trips became a more frequent pastime. They provided travelers with a cheaper alternative to hotels during their journey without sacrificing the comfort of a hotel. For the owners, the expenses and maintenance are also not as costly, making lodges a profitable venture.


Check out this post by Bob Vila to see 15 classic Roadsides to stay at in America!




Bobvila- 15 Classic Roadside Motels You Can Visit Along American Highwyas

momondo- Iconic American Lodging 



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