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Holiday Inn Founder Kemmons Wilson Dies

February 13, 2003

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson, whose coast-to-coast chain of motels offered travelers in an increasingly mobile postwar America a clean and affordable place to stay for the night, has died at 90.

Wilson, who died at home Wednesday, is widely viewed as the father of the modern-day hotel. He started with a single hotel outside Memphis in 1952 and built his company into a worldwide behemoth that revolutionized the industry. Travelers could expect comfort, cleanliness, quality service and good food at moderate prices.

When Wilson left the company in 1980 following a heart attack, it had more than 1,750 motels across the country and was one of the most well-known brands in U.S. history.

``Kemmons Wilson has transformed the motel from the old wayside fleabag into the most popular home away from home,″ Time magazine said in a 1972 cover story about Wilson.

A millionaire by 1951 from real estate deals, a chain of popcorn machines and a jukebox franchise, Wilson devised the idea for Holiday Inns during a family vacation to Washington. He said he wanted a chain of motels where children could stay free.

``My $6 room became a 16, or my $8 room became 18,″ Wilson recalled in a 1996 interview. ``I told my wife, Dorothy, that wasn’t fair. I didn’t take many vacations, but as I took this one, I realized how many families there were taking vacations and how they needed a nice place they could stay.″

The name Holiday Inn was taken from a Bing Crosby movie. The company added touches that travelers have come to expect at any hotel or motel in the world _ air conditioning, swimming pools, restaurants, free buckets of ice. The company also created a centralized system for reservations.

Wilson designed the flashy green-and-yellow Holiday Inn sign, drawing on his experience selling popcorn at movie theaters. ``I knew the value of a marquee,″ he once said.

``He was an inspiration for anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur,″ said John Pepin, dean of the University of Memphis’ college of business.

The university opened the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management last year. The school includes a fully functioning 82-room hotel built by Wilson and donated to the university.

Wilson incorporated Holiday Inn of America with Wallace Johnson, a homebuilder with a talent for raising money for business expansion. At the company’s peak, a new Holiday Inn was opening somewhere in the world every 2 1/2 days. Today, there are more than 1,000 Holiday Inns across the United States, and more in other countries.

Charles Kemmons Wilson, an only child, was born in Osceola, Ark., on Jan. 5, 1913. He quit high school shortly before graduation to help support himself and his widowed mother during the Depression.

Borrowing $50 from a friend, Wilson went into business at 17 with a second-hand popcorn machine. By 1933, he had made $1,700 from the popcorn business and bought a house for himself and his mother. He then mortgaged the house to buy a Wurlitzer jukebox franchise.

Jukeboxes, cigarette machines and pinball machines paved the way for his career as an entrepreneur and real estate investor.

He titled his autobiography ``Half Luck and Half Brains.″

Wilson was hardworking. One of ``Kemmons Wilson’s Twenty Tips for Success″ reads: ``Only work half a day. It doesn’t matter which half you work _ the first 12 hours or the second 12 hours.″

The Holiday Inn brand was eventually bought by a British company, Bass PLC, in 1990. The corporate headquarters were moved from Memphis to Atlanta in 1991. Bass is now Six Continents Hotels and owns, manages or leases more than 3,300 hotels around the world.

___

On the Net:

Kemmons Wilson: http://www.kwilson.com/kw

Holiday Inn: http://www.holiday-inn.com

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