When you stay at a hotel in the United States, there are certain things you expect. Fresh sheets, a bible in the bedside table and, of course, an ice machine down the hall.
Lurking in the corners of corridors, ice machines are unique to American hotels and tell a tale about the U.S. and its love affair with overly cooled beverages.
The free ice in hotels trend is mostly credited to Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn.
Wilson’s life story is included in the famous David Halberstam book The Fifties. The family’s 1951 summer vacation, marked by underwhelming lodging options, spurred Wilson to open a chain of hotels — the Holiday Inn.
His was the first hotel to offer guests free access to ice machines, starting at the original Holiday Inn, which opened in 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee.
According to Slate, “Wilson was frustrated by the upcharges and additional fees he encountered when traveling — yes, hotels once had the nerve to charge for ice — so he decreed that ice would be free for all guests in his hotels.”
With Americans traveling and staying in hotels more frequently in the 1950s, the demand for ice to be brought to the room shot up. Keeping up with demand was pricey for hotels, which is why self-serve ice machines were the perfect solution. And they continue to reside in corners of hotels to this day.