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:: By Seth Mayer, ‘08

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Open Book


[PHOTO] As America’s capital moved from Philadelphia to a largely unbuilt Washington, D.C., financier Samuel Blodget Jr. saw an opportunity to build the first U.S. hotel. A July 4, 1793, groundbreaking ceremony attracted a crowd of 1,500 and widespread press; plans called for the Union Public Hotel to dwarf the inns and taverns of the day. Yet the building never served its original purpose: when funds ran short the federal government bought the structure and turned it into the Postal Service and Patent Office headquarters.

Sandoval-Strausz begins with the early days of U.S. hostelries and ends with the racial-inclusivity struggles of the 1960s. He shows how capitalism-inspired mobility created demand for hotels and how those commercial needs transformed U.S. domestic life. As land prices rose in the early 19th century, for example, multiple-tenant housing became common and urban middle-class families took up residence in hotels.

Excerpted from Hotel: An American History:

“Hotel living began in luxury establishments, but as hotels diversified into a number of forms serving a broader clientele, hotel dwelling gradually spread into the urban middle class. [...] In Chicago’s city directory of 1844, for example, fully one listing in six was for an individual or family living in a hotel. This practice was not limited to developing cities: Walt Whitman stated in an 1856 newspaper article that nearly three-quarters of middle- and upper-class New Yorkers lived in hotels or boardinghouses. Indeed, by the time of his 1860 visit to the United States, the English novelist Anthony Trollope was so struck by this practice that he could say (with considerable exaggeration to be sure) that long-term hotel residents were so numerous as to render travelers and other transient guests ‘not generally the mainstay of the house.’”