KEMMONS WILSON Biography - Bussiness people and enterpreneurs


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Kemmons Wilson                                                                           
Full or original name at birth: Charles Kemmons Wilson                                   
Date and place of birth: January 5, 1913, Osceola, Arkansas, U.S.A.                       
Date, place and cause of death: February 12, 2003, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A. (Following 
Spouse: Dorothy Lee (m. December 2, 1941 - February 10, 2001) (her death)                 
Sons: Spence Wilson (b. November 10, 1942)                                               
Robert Wilson (b. August 17, 1944)                                                       
Charles Kemmons "Kem" Wilson, Jr. (b. September 22, 1946)                                 
Daughters: Betty Wilson and Carol Wilson                                                 
Father: Kemmons Wilson (in the insurance business)                                       
Mother: Ruby "Doll" (Hall) Wilson (a dental assistant)                                   
Burial site: Forest Hill Midtown Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.                     
Kemmons Wilson's life was a true rags-to-riches story. His father died when he           
was just nine months old, leaving his mother single and penniless. After moving           
her young family to Memphis, Tennessee, she worked as a dental assistant, but as         
the Great Depression wore on, "Doll" Wilson found herself out of work. Kemmons'           
only choice was to drop out of high school and become the sole breadwinner for           
the family. Wilson had always been an industrious young man, but faced with the           
prospect of abject poverty, his success was essential to the survival of the             
He began with a popcorn machine which he set up in a movie theater lobby. It             
proved so lucrative that the theater manager confiscated the machine. "I lost my         
popcorn machine because it got to where I was making more money than the theater         
manager," Kemmons once recalled. "I went home that night and told my mother that         
I was going to build my own theater, and no one was going to take it away."               
Within a short time he'd purchased the local Wurlitzer jukebox franchise. The             
income from his pinball machines, a chain of popcorn machines and his jukebox             
franchise allowed him to move into residential and commercial construction. And           
yes, he did what he promised his mother, and went on to build a total of 11 of           
his own movie theaters. His work as a real estate developer laid the groundwork           
for the lodging revolution he was about to initiate.                                     
It was a Wilson family trip to Washington, D.C. taken the summer of 1951 that             
changed the future of American travel accommodations. On the road, they were             
very disappointed in grimy, over-priced, cramped sleeping accommodations that             
frequently charged extra for each child. That common practice sometimes would             
double or even triple the cost of a room for a family. Kemmons said of this               
experience, "Well, I told my wife I didn't think this was fair. It wouldn't               
encourage people to travel with their children. I told her I was going to build           
a chain of motels, and I was never going to make a charge for children as long           
as they stayed in the same room as their parents." He wanted to build a brand             
name that you could trust with clean, spacious, and affordable accommodations.           
By allowing children to stay for free, providing swimming pools, telephones,             
television, air conditioning, and free ice, he brought reasonably-priced,                 
comfortable accommodations to middle class American road travel. Although all             
the extras Holiday Inn Hotels offered are now commonplace, these services were           
actually revolutionary at that time and set the standard for all future hotels           
and motels.                                                                               
His first Holiday Inn opened its doors the next year, on August 1st, 1952 in             
Memphis, Tennessee. He built Holiday Inn into the world’s largest hotel chain,           
by initially building along the new U.S. interstate highway system as it                 
expanded across the country. By the early '70s, Holiday Inn became the first             
food and lodging chain in U.S. history to have facilities operating in all 50             
states. At its peak in the 1970's, a new Holiday Inn was built every three days.         
Before long, travelers saw the familiar green-and-yellow Holiday Inn signs               
popping up in foreign locales such as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil,             
Canada, China, England, Fiji, France, India, Italy, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Lebanon,           
Russia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Taiwan, Zimbabwe and dozens of other countries.             
Wilson retired as head of Holiday Inn in 1979. Just three years later, he                 
founded another chain of hotels called Wilson World Hotels and Wilson Inns. 1996         
saw the publication of his autobiography Half Luck and Half Brains.                       
As father of the modern hotel chain, Wilson offered vacationing families, and             
businessmen alike, a brand name they could trust in roadside accommodations. He           
revolutionized the lodging industry by transforming the old wayside fleabag               
motel, into roomy, clean, comfortable accommodations at affordable and                   
consistent prices.