Great American Hoteliers

Pioneers of the Hotel Industry

During the thirty years prior to the Civil War, Americans built hotels larger and more ostentatious than any in the rest of the world. These hotels were inextricably intertwined with American culture and customs but were accessible to average citizens. As Jefferson Williamson wrote in "The American Hotel" ( Knopf 1930), hotels were perhaps "the most distinctively American of all our institutions  for they were nourished and brought to flower solely in American soil and borrowed practically nothing from abroad".  Development of hotels was stimulated by the confluence of travel, tourism and transportation. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad engendered hotels by Henry  Flagler, Fred Harvey, George Pullman and Henry Plant. The Lincoln Highway  and the Interstate Highway System triggered hotel development by Carl Fisher, Ellsworth Statler, Kemmons Wilson and Howard Johnson. The airplane stimulated Juan Trippe, John Bowman, Conrad Hilton, Ernest Henderson, A.M. Sonnabend and John Hammons.. My research into the lives of these great hoteliers reveals that none of them grew up in the hospitality business but became successful through their intense on-the- job experiences. My investigation has uncovered remarkable and startling true stories about these pioneers, some of whom are well-known and others who are lost in the dustbin of history.

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