George Washington was not only the father of our country, but also of our hospitality industry, reports Dominique Browning in a New York Times review of “Hotel: An American History,” by A.K. Sandoval-Strauss (12/2/07). When Washington took his first presidential tour of new colonies in the late 1700s, he chose to stay at inns and taverns rather than at private homes. He did so “to avoid the appearance of favoritism.” But because most of the inns at the time were “dirty and uncomfortable,” his tour triggered a trend toward the construction of “large, lavish, public accommodations” better suited “to receive notable visitors.” About a century later, hotels again were at the center of political life.
At the time, the country was “an overwhelmingly agrarian society,” which Jeffersonian Republicans wanted to preserve and Hamiltonian Federalists wanted to change. Accordingly, the Jeffersonians were anti-hotel, and “worried that too much commercial involvement would detract from the proper agricultural pursuits of the American people, tempting them into a love of luxury and corrupting their sensibilities.” The pro-hotel Hamiltonians, however, “argued that a thriving commercial sector was a necessary and civilizing engine of progress.” The Hamiltonian vision gave rise to “railroad hotels, which facilitated business dealings along trade routes” and “resort hotels which sprang up along with the concept of vacation time.”
The resorts actually “helped populate towns, like Colorado Springs, and even entire states, as when Henry M. Flagler built a series of hotels along the thinly populated coast of southern Florida.” Land shortages in the 1850s led to rising housing prices that led people to take up living in hotels — leading to the advent of apartment buildings. Given the many links between hospitality, democracy, capitalism and domestic tranquility, Dominique Browning muses over “what might have happened had we occupied Iraq with Hiltons instead of Humvees,” and concludes: “I will never again check into a hotel without thinking of myself as an ambassador of peace; that alone, with its profound implications, makes this thoughtful book worthwhile.” ~ Tim Manners, editor