While on vacation Wilson and his family had a bad experience. The Motel they stayed in was not up to proper standards. There was a sewage overflow in their room and they had to be moved to another room, but even that room was just sub par. That experience was the genesis of the idea that became the Holiday Inn.
In the summer of 1952 Kemmons Wilson of Memphis TN opened his first motel at 4925 Summer Ave Memphis TN. In 1953 Kemmons and his new partner Wallace Johnson built the second Holiday Inn on US 51 South. They built two more that year in Memphis, one on Highway 51 North, and one on US 61 South. By 1957 the two were operating 23 Holiday Inns and opening seven more by year end.
In 1957 Kemmons Wilson formed the franchise Holiday Inns of America. The franchise grew and grew and by 1968 the 1000th Holiday Inn opened in San Antonio Texas. During this era of great expansion the company used the roadside sign that became known the “Great Sign”. The marquee was Wilson’s idea to welcome groups as they arrived at the motel.
Through the 1980’s the Company continued to grow and was renamed Holiday Corporation to reflect the growth of the company’s brands, Harrah’s Entertainment, Embassy Suites, Crowne Plaza, Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn. The Corporation purchased the remaining domestic Holiday Inn Hotels in 1990 and Kemmons Wilson sold his interest.