When Kemmons Wilson of Memphis Tennessee took his family on holiday in 1952 to see the sights of Washington DC he was shocked of the inconsistent quality of the hotels and motels on his journey. People laughed but he decided to open his own chain. The architect Eddie Bluesmen gave his original drawing the title of Holiday Inn as a joke – he had watched the Christmas themed musical film while he was working. Wilson loved it and today the Holiday Inn chain is one of the largest in the world.
The first Holiday Inn was opened on Summer Avenue in Memphis, the main highway to Nashville in August 1952 as Holiday In Hotel Courts. Five years after the first hotel was built Wilson had the idea of franchising the chain. Road travellers loved it that there was a standardised, clean and friendly hotel chain that started to cover the whole of the US. The Holiday Inn chain substantially grew and there were 50 Holiday Inns by 1958, 100 by 1959, 500 by 1964, and the 1,000th Holiday Inn, in San Antonio, Texas, in 1968.
The “Great Sign” was the huge original roadside sign used by Holiday Inn during their era of expansion in the 1950s-1970s. Large and striking it was brilliant advertising for the brand and was a sign that no one could miss. Wilson had very specific demands about how the sign would look and wanted it to be at least fifty feet high and be seen from whichever direction the traveller was approaching. The original sign cost $13,000 – an extraordinary amount at the time.