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Kemmons Wilson

Founder of Holiday Inns

Kemmons WilsonKemmons Wilson entered the hotel industry by opening his first Holiday Inn on August 1, 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee. He revolutionized the industry by allowing children to stay for free and providing swimming pools, air conditioning, free cribs, telephones, television, ice and free parking. Wilson brought comfortable accommodations to the middle class at prices they could afford—a legacy that continues to this day.

By the end of the 1950s, Wilson had opened 100 Holiday Inns. In the 1960s, he opened the Holiday Innkeeping School, which became Holiday Inn University, to teach the “Holiday Inn Way.” The company soon expanded outside the United States, opening a hotel in Canada in 1960.

On August 1, 1968, the 1,000th Holiday Inn opened in San Antonio, Texas, and the first European Holiday Inn opened on March 25 of the same year in Leiden, Holland. With the international expansion of Holiday Inn hotels, the corporate name was changed from Holiday Inns of America, Inc., to Holiday Inns, Inc., and the familiar slogan, “The Nation’s Innkeeper” was more accurately revised to “The World's Innkeeper.”

To Wilson, success meant never having to settle for anything less than excellent. He once said: “In this country, you don't have to settle for being average … you can dare to do better … Whatever your career choice, make your work count.”

By 1971, the Holiday Inn system became the first food and lodging chain in history to have facilities in all 50 states. The company reached the 200,000-room mark in December of 1971, duplicating in less than five years a level of growth that had originally taken 15 years. In 1972, the grand opening of the world’s largest Holiday Inn (719 rooms) opened in Toronto, Canada, 20 years after the first opening of the first Holiday Inn property. At the time of Wilson’s induction into the Hall of Honor, there were more than 1,900 Holiday Inn hotels.

In August 1989, the British-based Bass Company acquired the Holiday Inn Corporation and the company’s headquarters was moved from Memphis to Atlanta. But Wilson’s principles of customer service, quality and value are still very much in existence today.

In 1982, Wilson launched a new lodging company called Wilson World.