Monday, January 5, 2009

Charles Kemmons Wilson; America's Innkeeper

Charles Kemmons Wilson

"America's Innkeeper" Charles Kemmons Wilson was the founder of the Holiday Inn chain of hotels opening his first Holiday Inn on August 1, 1952 in Memphis. Today, on the day of his birth in 1913, I would like to share a few recipes from the Holiday Inn International Cook Book (1972 ed,) first published in 1962. The story of Wilson's life is an inspirational story of sheer "rags to riches" glory. He was born in Arkansas, moved to Tennessee with his young widowed mother, quit school to help his mother when she lost her job as a dental assistant during the depression, sold popcorn and soda outside a neighborhood movie theater until the theater owner decided to buy his concession stand...

Wilson was born in Osceola, Arkansas, on January 5, 1913. He was the only child of Kemmons Wilson, an insurance agent, and Ruby Lloyd (Hall) Wilson. Wilson’s father died when he was only nine months old...Wilson demonstrated a knack for business at an early age, even though he never completed his education. After his father died, he moved with his mother to Memphis, Tennessee, where she worked as a bookkeeper and dental assistant. He took his first job at the age of seven, selling the Saturday Evening Post door to door. He soon had 12 other boys working beneath him. When he was 14, Wilson was hit by a car while working as a drugstore delivery boy. The accident fractured his right leg and kept him in a body cast for 11 months. This forced him to miss school for nearly a year. He quit school altogether when, two months before his high school graduation, his mother was hospitalized. He then went to work to support them both.
He began with a popcorn machine which he set up in a movie theater lobby. It proved so lucrative that the theater manager confiscated the machine. "I lost my popcorn machine because it got to where I was making more money than the theater manager," Kemmons once recalled. "I went home that night and told my mother that I was going to build my own theater, and no one was going to take it away." Within a short time he'd purchased the local Wurlitzer jukebox franchise. The income from his pinball machines, a chain of popcorn machines and his jukebox franchise allowed him to move into residential and commercial construction. And yes, he did what he promised his mother, and went on to build a total of 11 of his own movie theaters. His work as a real estate developer laid the groundwork for the lodging revolution he was about to initiate. source

By 1950, Charles Kemmons Wilson was a millionaire.

Wilson married Dorothy Lee and had five children by 1951. In August of that year, at his wife’s insistence, he took the family in their Oldsmobile (without air conditioning) on a vacation to Washington DC. Along their drive, they found accommodations which forced them to choose between expensive downtown hotels and “mom-and-pop” operations such as boarding houses and tourist courts. The accommodations were of varying quality and generally charged for each of his five children. At one lodging, the room was six dollars, and the Wilsons were also charged two dollars for each child. He decided that with more middle-class Americans traveling in the post-war prosperity of the 1950s, families needed clean, comfortable places with air conditioning, the newly popular television, nearby food, and a swimming pool for the children to play in and adults to relax around...
On August 1, 1952, he opened the first of four hotels in the Memphis area. He decided on the name Holiday Inn after the popular 1942 Bing Crosby film, which his draftsman had watched the night before submitting his plans. The very first Holiday Inn was on Memphis’s Summer Avenue, not far from today’s Graceland...Wilson’s mother, who was a company vice president and who had worked with him on the décor for his housing business, decorated the Holiday Inn rooms in bright, friendly, warm colors. There was a Bible in each room. Every property had air conditioning, a swimming pool, a restaurant on the premises, in-room phones, free ice, dog kennels, free parking, and available babysitters. The franchisees who operated Holiday Inns were not called managers but innkeepers. In the early days, innkeepers would phone ahead to make guests’ reservations at the next Holiday Inn on their route. As the number of hotels increased, a computerized reservation system was set up, which Wilson called “the most revolutionary step since the opening of the first inn.” best resource
Since I travel back and forth from New York to PA so often, I thought I would share a recipe from each place from the Holiday Inn International Cook Book by Ruth Moore Malone Vaughan. From the back of the book:
Ruth M. Malone is also food editor of the Holiday Inn Magazine. The "Cook Book Lady" as she is affectionately known from coast to coast (and now in many foreign countries,) is a former magazine and syndicated newspaper writer. Other cook books to her credit are the Dogpatch Cook Book, Swiss Holiday Recipes and Where to Eat in the Ozarks. An authority on the Ozarks, Mrs. Malone was selected by the Smithsonian Institution to contribute an article for the 1970 Festival of American Folklife program book. She is a member of the prestigious Order of the Chevaliers du Tastevin. Her by-line has frequented American Home, Parents and a number of Mid-South newspapers. She appeared as the "real" Ruth on the television show, To Tell the Truth.

Both recipes I have chosen are from what would now be the closest recipes to where I am in New York and Pennsylvania. The first recipe, for Duck Bigarde, is from the Holiday Inn which was on Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook, New York. It seems odd that the recipe included for the Holiday Inn in State College, PA is for Deep Sea Scallops. I know from experience even today, fresh scallops in State College are still difficult to find. I think I will go with the Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie from the Holiday Inn that was in Williamsport which is about 40 minutes from where I live in PA. State College is about 20 minutes away:) Lidian over @ Kitchen Retro has also posted a recipe from this book. The recipe for Cucumber Salad is at her humorous Congealed Weapons post. I can always count on Lidian's posts to brighten up my day. Thanks again, Lidian:) 

In case you missed the post for New Year's Eve, I've decided to include relevant snippets from American Cookery Magazine 1934 editions throughout 2009. As you can see from this ad published in the January edition, 75 years ago, The Hotel Governor Clinton, a prestigious New York Hotel built in 1929 was charging not $300 dollars but $3.00 for a night's stay at one of New York's finest hotels. Huge difference!

On the lite side:) today also happens to be the birth day of Herb Peterson the inventor of the McDonald's Egg McMuffin and National Whipped Cream Day. Tomorrow is Little Christmas. I posted a menu for Little Christmas last year. Here's the link. Enjoy!


  1. At least she didn't charge you for the terrible meatloaf! Bleah!

  2. I'm with you, Louise. I don't mind spending the money, but it had better be what it says it is (or somebody will probably hear about it). The story of Charles Kemmons Wilson is interesting--one of those that reminds one to keep plugging away despite the bumps in the road. Today is cold and rainy, so Chicken Pot Pie sounds pretty good.

  3. Happy New Yera. Why dont I have that luck when and if do ever attempt to gamble!$300 for a room. I have been charged less for a 5 star hotel in Europe( ok thought priceline or some something) but still! and bad meat losf to boot. Thanks for the story on the Hoilday Inn founder. I always love coming here to find these details out.

  4. Maybe it's booby sockser LOL Oh Louise! I feel for you with that bad bad blue plate special. Maybe you have to have a special palate to eat it. Or a non existing one. Either way..Happy New Year, my friend :)

  5. Hahahaha..This is a very funny read, that episode in the restaurant. And like you, I never liked cold coffee.
    Congrats on winning, wow that's a huge amount of money.
    I admire you for solid research that goes with each of your articles. I'm quite sure you are the best food blogger in the whole world! And I'm proud to be your regular reader!
    I also discovered you have two blogs? Whoa, you can now produce a whole coffeetable book on food!
    Happy Happy New year, Louise!

  6. I was actually pleasantly surprised she didn't Duckie. Par for the course I suppose:)

    Hi Kathy,
    His story really is quite inspiring. Something we are all going to need a lot of this coming year. Chicken Pot Pie is sounding mighty good here too. The day is hinting it would like to snow but hasn't quite made up its mind yet.

    Oh Courtney I am so glad you're back. Now, I'm coming for a visit so you better get posting!!!!

    LOL yes, booby socker that's perfect! Thanks for dropping by Maryann. I added your La Befana post to the Little Christmas post I did last year. Thanks for sharing...

  7. Happy New year to you and family!

  8. Hi Dennis, I thought you would get a kick out of the other blog. I actually have three! I appreciate your visits and am looking forward to a food post from YOU!

    Thanks Beachlover, not a beach day today in New York:(

  9. Thanks for visiting Granny Two Shoes. I had a wonderful visit at your blog. I've always wanted to learn about "painting with fabric" Unfortunately, I had a problem leaving a comment. The form didn't work. email me if you like.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise