By Jacque Scott
How on earth did hotels come about? How did they all start? Let’s see what we can find out about them.
The origin of the word “hotel” is in Middle English where in the generic meaning was used to indicate lodging. It was derived from Old French where the word was hôtel.
The most serious thing facing the weary traveler today is a padded bill and an unpadded mattress. But in 1315, travelers were routinely murdered to steal their luggage, and the king of France ordered innkeepers to pay a heavy fine if any of their guests met an untimely death while under their roof. We’ve come a long way.
Hotels and inns are as old as travel. The Bible mentions the crowded inn in Bethlehem and an inn earlier where Joseph stopped on his return from Egypt. The Romans had overnight accommodations along their highway network, and even Marco Polo is known to have stayed at relay houses on his journey through China.
In 1577, there were over 6,000 inns in England. Inns were advertised as having “clean sheets.” In colonial America, travelers were not so lucky. They were fortunate to find any kind of sheets on the bed or, in fact, any unoccupied bed. Most inns had only two sleeping rooms, one for men and one for women. But, the first five or six guests took the bed, and later arrivals had to take the floor. There was no privacy.
The first hotel built solely as a hotel in the United States was the City Hotel in New York City. It had 73 rooms, but none of the doors had locks.
During the 1800s, American innkeepers became the leaders in hotel development. At that time, only the wealthy could afford to stay at European hotels.
This and hotel keeping in general all changed on October 16, 1829 when the Tremont Hotel opened in Boston. It was called “a palace for the people” and is known as the first modern hotel. It occupied a full block, and was the largest building in the United States at the time. Its rooms were richly carpeted, and the dining room sat 200 people. The library was well stocked with many books and newspapers. At the time, Boston didn’t even have a library.
The Tremont had 170 single and double rooms, and all had keys. Among other new things were bellhops, desk clerks, and in-door plumbing. Of course guests had to go down to the basement for the eight bathrooms and eight showers. For the use of all these amenities and four meals a day, guests were charged $2 a day. Overnight the Tremont Hotel had changed hotel standards.
In 1888 the Victoria Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, put a bath in every room. Even ten years later, the Bristol, one of the most elegant hotels in Paris, still only had one bathroom per floor.
Competition led to many innovations such as the first innerspring mattress, and the first bathtub. The Tremont Hotel, which started it all, actually gave us the first four-pronged fork. Guests took to calling it a divided spoon.
Guests have seen many changes, and some of these have even been ones that we have seen in our lifetimes. Never could those early hotelkeepers have imagined drive-up motels, continental breakfasts, or wireless Internet………
Free soap, bellboys and indoor plumbing are just a few of the modern conveniences that set hotels apart from the humble inns and guesthouses that went before.
So there you have it……..a bit about hotels. God bless you.