Charles Kemmons Wilson had a successful home building business in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1951, he and his wife decided to take their five children on a sightseeing trip to Washington, D.C. Air travel was very expensive, and railroads were in decline. There wasn’t a superhighway system yet, but they chose to go in the family car. Travel was only a few hundred miles a day, due to food and rest stops. They looked for hotels that weren’t in the big cities along their routes. The lodging — some nice, some not so nice — charged for the kids, even though his had their own sleeping bags. Plus, restaurants were not always close by. That trip got Wilson got to thinking about getting into the motel business. “How many are you going to build?” asked his wife. “Oh, about four hundred,” he said. “That ought to cover the country. And if I never do anything else worth remembering in my life, children are going to stay free at my motels.”
Wilson understood some of the forces of the 1950s: 1) America was on the move; 2) they loved to drive; and 3) there was a new demographic, which included lots of children. Yes, this was just be beginning of the baby boomers.
A draftsman friend, Eddie Bluestein, provided Wilson with sketches of the new motels and wrote Holiday Inn on them. Bluestein had seen Bing Crosby’s film “Holiday Inn” on TV the night before and thought it was a great name. So did Wilson.
In August, 1952, Wilson opened his first motel in Memphis. It had a restaurant, gift shop, and a swimming pool. Rather than just a roadside motel, it was a mini-resort. Each room had an air conditioner and a free TV set. And, yes, kids could stay for free. That still holds today.