Happy birthday to the Drive-In!

It was a Tuesday more than eighty years ago today – June 6, 1933 – that people first drove their cars right up to a screen to watch movies on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey.  A new form of entertainment was born and Once Upon a Screen remembers once upon a screen in everywhere U.S.A. with a special birthday tribute to the DRIVE-IN theater.

The first drive-in
The first drive-in

Richard Hollingshead, a movie fan and a sales manager at his father’s company, Whiz Auto Products, in Camden, New Jersey came up with an idea for “Park-In Theaters,” as Drive-Ins were originally called, where patrons could watch movies while sitting in their own cars.  He experimented in the driveway of his own house by pinning a screen (white sheet) to some trees, mounting a 1928 Kodak projector to the hood of his car and placing a radio behind the screen for sound. It worked. Hollingshead received a patent for the concept in May of 1933 and opened Park-In Theaters, Inc. less than a month later with a $30,000 investment.

IT’S NEWS!

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drive-in-ad

The first feature film shown to the packed lot in Camden that night, about 400 cars (although some say 600), was Fred Niblo’s, Wives Beware (1932) starring Adolphe Menjou, which was in second-run status at the time.  Drive-ins were rarely able to feature first-run movies and usually showed only B-movies – or movies that were not considered Hollywood’s finest fare.

“The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

Advertising it as entertainment for the whole family, Hollingshead charged 25 cents per car and 25 cents per person, with no group paying more than one dollar.

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The popularity of the drive-in spiked after World War II.  The idea caught on and after Hollingshead’s patent was overturned in 1949 drive-in theaters began popping up all over the country, experiencing their hey-day from the late 1950s to mid-1960s, with some 5,000 theaters across the U.S.A. (History.com)  And they became a central part of American culture.  But they went with the wind due to growing real estate prices initially, growing numbers of walk-in theaters and, of course, the rise of video rentals and other such things.  According to History.com, less than 500 drive-in theaters survive today in the United States.

Drive-In Movie Memories:

And now an intermission before we get to the final portion of this tribute:

To end, nostalgic images to celebrate the drive-in and the part it played in so many lives – a movie-going experience that will never be equaled.

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Happy birthday to an American icon.

Drive safely!

19 thoughts

  1. This just makes me ‎all Verklempt. I remember going to the drive-in wearing my pajamas as a little girl during the 60s and then again in the 70s growing up in New York. There’s just nothing quite like it. I love the images and the glow of nostalgia that you’ve evoked with this tribute. Ironically, I’m living in New Jersey now, seems appropriate for me and The Last Drive In to have settled here, the birthplace of the coolest venue! Thanks for doing this-Cheers Joey

    1. WELL! I too grew up in NY and now live in Jersey!

      I don’t have memories of going to drive-ins as a kid, but I have been and still know of one north of Peekskill, NY that I’ve been to with friends in recent years.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this.

      Aurora

  2. Wonderful post! What great memories at the drive in growing up! I’ll never forget my uncle who was babysitting my brother and I smuggled us in the trunk with a garbage bag of popcorn. Passing the time until it was dark, the mosquito bites, the humidity, falling asleep in the back seat before the film was over–all great stuff! Thanks for the trigger.

  3. Great post- LOVE the photos! So Americana, isn’t it?! My parents would dress us in our pj’s & put us in the back seat with pillows. After we’d play on the swings (located just below the big screen), we’d watch the dancing hot dog & popcorn promo then predictably fall asleep before ever seeing the feature. Such memories!

  4. What a fun post!! I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, and drive-ins were a regular part of our family entertainment. It is through the drive-in that I became a lifelong “fraidy cat.” I don’t remember if it was “The House of Usher” or “The Fall of the House of Usher” which was the second feature showing. I was supposed to be sleeping in the car by the time that came on; alas, too much commotion for this nosy 8-year old, so I kept peering over the back seat of the station wagon and looking at the screen. I was terrified!! I can never look at Vincent Price without remembering that experience.

  5. Aurora,
    I really enjoyed your tribute to Drive-Ins on this anniversary. Some of my fondest memories with my parents as a kid being our adventures at the Drive-In. There was usually 3 or 4 families that would go on a Friday night and we had our lawn chairs and blankets as we caught the latest triple feature.

    We have a really nice Drive-In that is still operational here in OKC. Even the giant neon cowboy out front is operational and in perfect condition at the Winchester. ” )

    Thanks for bringing back such nice memories for me. This post makes me want to gather up some friends and head over to the Winchester one weekend this summer.
    Page

  6. Great mini-history of the drive-in theatre. Love your photos and ads! I have fond memories of several drive-ins, most of which are long gone. My favorite, though, is still around: the Starlite Drive-in in Bloomington, IN.

    1. I wish I could go there. I’ve never been to Indiana but when I do I’ll be sure to go to the Starlite. I got many comments via twitter mentioning that one as a result of this post.

      Thanks, Rick.

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