A family of enterprises.

Holiday Inn Story

The idea of Holiday Inns was born from a frustrated father on a family vacation. In 1951, Dorothy finally persuaded Kemmons to take a break so they packed up the children, all five of them, and head to Washington, D.C. to visit the national landmarks.

By the time they reached their destination, Kemmons had formulated an idea, borne from the discomforts he had encountered as he and his family trekked across the land. Outraged at being charged extra for each child at every roadside lodging where the family stayed, not to mention the cramped, uncomfortable accommodations, Kemmons decided to reinvent the lodging industry. His idea was to build 400 motels across the country, each within a day’s drive of the next. Kemmons measured every nook and cranny of every room where the family stayed.

By the time he returned to Memphis he had the ideal dimensions for efficiency and comfort in a motel room.  His formula was so accurate that it remains the standard for many hotel rooms built today.

With the traveling family in mind, he developed other features that would become industry standards:

  • Standardized room size (12ft  x 26ft with bathroom)
  • Swimming Pool
  • Free in-room Television
  • Telephones
  • Ice Machines
  • Restaurant
  • No charge for children under age 12 who stayed with their parents

Back in Memphis, Kemmons had a draftsman draw up the plans from his notes. The draftsman happened to watch a Bing Crosby movie while he worked and he jotted the name of the film at the top of the plans. The movie was Holiday Inn.

By 1952, the first Holiday Inn opened in Memphis, TN and by end of 1953 he had three more open but was out of money to build more.

A lack of money did not stop Kemmons. He partnered with Wallace Johnson and they set out to “franchise” the concept.  After a rocky start, their first franchised Holiday Inn opened in Clarksdale, MS in 1954.

In 1957, they had their first public offering with 120,000 shares at $9.75. This financial event truly helped get them off to the races in the world of hotel building.  Below you’ll find some key milestones in the history of Holiday Inn’s growth story.

1958 – 50th Holiday Inn opened in Dyersburg, TN

1959 – 100th Holiday Inn opened in Tallahassee, FL

1960 – first international Holiday Inn opened in Montreal, Canada

1963 – 400th Holiday Inn in Montgomery, AL

1964 – 500th Holiday Inn in Johnstown, PA and HI listed on NYSE

1968 – first Holiday Inn in Europe in Leiden, Holland

1972 – Kemmons on the cover of Time Magazine – Man with 300,000 beds

1979 – Kemmons retired from HI with 1,759 HIs in 50 countries

Kemmons continued to innovate even while Holiday Inn was growing at an astronomical rate of two HI openings every week by 1962. Some of the more notable innovations include:

  • Forming a partnership with Gulf Oil that included anyone with a Gulf credit card could charge their HI stay to it and they traded site information.
  • Creating a referral arrangement with Pan American Airways
  • Purchasing 30+ companies that provided just about everything an HI franchisee would need to open a new HI and building a showroom to display and sell the items.
  • Created the first central reservation system (Holidex) for the hospitality industry through a partnership with IBM.

To read more about the beginning of Holiday Inn direct from Kemmons, click here for a copy of a speech he gave in 1998. (click here for KW’s speech) and to order a copy of Kemmons’ autobiography, Half Luck, Half Brains, click here.

Kemmons with the Great Sign

Great Sign-KW

"Remember that we all climb the ladder of success one step at a time"