A couple of weeks ago on the blog, we shared slides from the John Margolies Roadside America collection, newly digitized in anticipation of a Margolies exhibit coming to The Henry Ford later this year. However, John Margolies did not only take photographs of interesting places he encountered on the road; he also collected related items. We’ve just digitized about 300 pennants Margolies collected, representing various cities, states, parks, zoos, circuses, beaches, landmarks, and intriguing roadside attractions. On this colorful example, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox invite you to visit the Trees of Mystery along the Redwood Highway, California. To find out if your hometown or favorite childhood attraction is represented, visit our collections website and peruse all the digitized pennants—and see if you can spot any of them in the exhibit later this year!
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
John Margolies spent decades traveling the United States and photographing roadside attractions, restaurants, shops, and motels, with a particular focus on interesting or quirky shapes and signage. Many of the places he photographed are in varying states of abandonment and decline, but harken back to the excitement of the golden era of road trips and the unique commercial designs they spawned. Last year, The Henry Ford acquired about 1500 slides by John Margolies, and a little later this year, we will be putting on an exhibit of selected material, transformed from 35mm slide format into art prints. If you’d like to get a jump on the exhibit, you can currently view over 120 recently digitized Margolies slides on our collections website (including, in most cases, the slide mounts with John Margolies’s hand-written notes). Some of these images—perhaps this dinosaur offering up live music and a really good deal on a large t-bone—will be featured within the exhibit.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Expedia Viewfinder and The Henry Ford teamed up to discuss some of the best places to visit.
Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T put Americans in the driver’s seat. His affordable automobile made everything from running errands and commuting to work to taking Sunday drives and embarking on road trips possible for ordinary people. The Model T transformed the way Americans traveled and paved the road for the future of vehicles.
Expedia Viewfinder discovered that Henry Ford Museum refreshed its Driving America exhibit not too long ago, and we got to thinking about how these antique vehicles have contributed to our own opportunities for modern-day travel. With a set of wheels, we can tour unique corners of the country and witness unrivaled beauty at our leisure. Since it was Henry Ford who made road tripping possible in the first place, it only seemed fitting to partner up with The Henry Ford, home of the country’s premier automotive museum, to discuss some of our favorite routes and roadside attractions.
Some of the nation’s most scenic areas are best viewed from behind the steering wheel with the windows rolled down. So on your next open-road adventure, buckle up, rev your engine, and cruise over to these must-see attractions:
John Margolies has spent decades traveling the roads of America and photographing roadside attractions, restaurants, shops, and motels. Many of them are in varying states of abandonment and decline, but harken back to the excitement of 20th century road trips and the unique commercial designs they spawned. The Henry Ford recently acquired about 1,500 slides by John Margolies, and is digitizing selections by Chief Curator and Curator of Industry & Design Marc Greuther, including this drive-in cleaners’ sign photographed in 1987 in Oregon. View more selections from the Margolies collection on our collections website.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Summer is here, and many of us look forward to an escape from the daily grind with some relaxation and down time. Our thoughts turn to sandy beaches, summer cottages, picnics.
Today, Internet reservation systems and freeway exit signs make it easy to find lodging on route to our final destination. Except for the venerable old hotels in cities and resort areas, most roadside lodgings are pretty much the same: branded national chains that offer few surprises.
The rise: Motels spring up across America
There was once a time when every roadside lodging was unique. These were the “mom-and-pop” motels that dotted every highway across the country. They had their origins in the 1920s and 1930s with the primitive tourist cabins similar to the one from the photograph from our collections pictured above. These cabins offered the privacy and shelter lacking in the earlier auto camps.
Tourist cabins and cottages were increasingly clustered together into larger tourist courts such as the one depicted on this postcard. They featured enhanced amenities such as private showers, gas pumps and lunch rooms. When tourist court owners realized they could save money by stringing together rooms into single integrated units - the motel was born.
The golden age
After World War II, thousands of new motels beckoned motorists with their bold, colorful signs and unique versions of homey comfort.
Today, these postcards offer silent testimony to the many varieties in motel design.
On the backs of many of these postcards, we get an idea of the once-modern amenities proudly described by motel owners. Features such as tiled bathrooms and thermostatic controlled heat to carpeted floors and Sealy or Beauty-Rest mattresses, are just a few.
Artifacts of motels of the past
In addition to motel postcards from past vacations, what other material evidence survives today from this golden age? We asked this question when we installed a small display of motel items for our Driving America exhibition that opened in January. What items conveyed both the national popularity of motels and the unique attributes of each motel? Here are some of our finds:
Today, we are handed electronic key cards programmed to open the door to our room. Once returned, they can be re-programmed to open someone else’s room the very same day.
Although each motel room key was unique, this example from the Sea Breeze Motel depicts a popular example. If you forgot to return your key at check out, a message on the oversized key fob encouraged you to just drop it in the nearest mailbox with return postage guaranteed.
Ashtrays and matches
With the popularity of cigarette smoking, motel owners did their best to prevent cigarette burns on furniture, carpets and mattresses by providing ashtrays such as this one from the Westward Ho Motel. Savvy owners didn't miss the opportunity to throw in a little advertising as well.
Matchbooks like these three examples were ubiquitous at this time with the expectation that smokers would pocket them for later use.
Put out by match companies, these free throw-away souvenirs offered advertising for both the motel and the match producer.
Also realizing the lucrative benefits of advertising, soap companies produced pocket-sized versions of their soaps for motels, like these examples.
It wasn't uncommon at the time for the soap company’s name or logo to be larger than the name of the motel.
The fall: Inns are in
Motels thrived during the 1950s and 1960s, but by the end of that time, many had fallen on hard times. Ongoing maintenance was expensive and travelers had come to expect more. We can thank Kemmons Wilson for heightening travelers' expectations with the franchising of his Holiday Inn - a new lodging concept that began in 1957 - enticing customers with its flashy neon signs.
Every Holiday Inn promised the same deluxe amenities—free in-room TV and telephone, air conditioning, free ice, a family restaurant and swimming pool. Soon other chains followed suit. Privately owned motels run on modest budgets by hard-working families or couples just couldn’t compete. By the 1980s, the golden age of motels was pretty much a thing of the past.
Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She enjoys sleuthing classic motels on Route 66, and has even stayed in a few!