June 6, 1933: The Era of Drive-In Movies Begins

A summer night spent at the drive-in brings nostalgic feelings for millions of Americans who grew up listening to the tinny sound coming from the speaker hooked to the car window at their local drive-in theater. On June 6, 1933, the world’s first drive-in theater opened in Camden, New Jersey. This revolutionary concept transformed automobiles into “private theatre boxes” allowing guests to “smoke, chat, or even partake of refreshments.”

The Morning Call – Allentown, Pennsylvania 06.04.1933

Richard Hollingshead, Jr., the inventor of the drive-in theater, developed the idea during the midst of the depression. He was out of work but figured there were two things people weren’t willing to give up – their cars and going to the movies. He tested his concept by setting up a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his family car and projecting pictures onto a screen nailed to a tree in his yard.

Courier-Post – Camden, New Jersey 06.09.1985

Pleased with the results, Hollingshead sought financial backing from his cousin and opened the first drive-in theater. Patrons paid $1 per car or 25 cents per person. Speakers were mounted atop the 60-foot screen but didn’t provide very good sound. It would take years to improve the sound problem at the drive-in. Hollingsworth’s theater design included concentric, curved rows titled at a five-degree angle to ensure that everyone had a good view of the screen.

The novelty of watching a movie from your own car was a draw for families who could put the children to sleep in the back seat and enjoy a movie. Viewing a movie from your car also didn’t require you to dress up, a common practice when attending the theater in that era. The problematic sound issue and a depressed economy kept the idea of drive-ins from spreading for the rest of the decade, but after WWII the era of the drive-in movie theater entered its golden age. More than 4,500 drive-in theaters opened between 1948-1955.

Covina Argus – Covina, California 08.25.1950

During the 1950s and ‘60s, the drive-in also became the quintessential teen hangout. Teenagers loved having a place to congregate and socialize with their friends. Drive-in theaters provided an evening of fun at an affordable price.

By the 1970s, the popularity of the drive-in waned. The 1980s brought an explosion of VHS tapes and movie rentals. The transition to digital projection also provided a challenge for theater owners because of the steep price tag at a time when attendance was down. As a result, many theaters began to shut down. Increased land values also pressured many owners to sell their property for development.

Today, there are somewhere around 330 drive-in theaters remaining in the U.S. During recent months, some of those theaters have experienced an unexpected revival, offering families an evening out during social distancing. Do you remember attending the drive-in when you were young? To learn more about the history of drive-in theaters, search Newspapers.com today!

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53 thoughts on “June 6, 1933: The Era of Drive-In Movies Begins

  1. My family loved the drive-in theaters. The kids would go to the playground and ride the swings and just meet all the other kids. It was a hit with the teenagers on their first of many dates. That’s where my husband of almost 50 years took me.

  2. I remember the Spotlight 88 Drive In just outside Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. It was nice family time. I am still nostalgic for those evenings.

  3. Yes the drive in theatre and afterwards the drive in A & W for burgers.
    I remember a bunch of us 5 or 6 piling into my buddy’s parents car in Winnipeg and heading to the local drive in. Unfortunately I had inadvertently stepped in some dog poo!
    On the way everyone sniffed and commented!
    Once there we all were told by the driver to stand outside for a shoes inspection. On discovering that I was the guilty party I had to throw my shoes in the trunk and was allowed back in my socks!
    The young lady I was interested in had moved from the back seat to the front. Guess she lost the spark between us!

    1. I sure remember going out to those drive-ins in Winnipeg. There were three or four and to us kids, it was a wonderful adventure for me and my three siblings! The Starlight, North and Circus drive-ins rocked.

      1. I remember the one on SE corner of where Bishop Grandin crosses Pembina. We were University students back then but could afford the tickets on our lowly income.

  4. A favorite childhood memory was going to the Cedar Valley Drive In near Rome, Georgia. A great playground with huge swings, and other playground equipment kept us occupied until the movie started. From about 1952 until 1958 our family went to the drive in a few times a month. The death knell for our family going there was when we got our first television set in about 1957. We seldom went after that. Later in the 1970’s showed soft porn movies to try to get attendance up and finally closed down. It was beautifully landscaped and lighted. The centerpiece for the Lam Entertainment family chain of movie theaters in Georgia. Cedar Valley made Ripleys Believe It or Not because the large screen was designed with an apartment in its base for the manager to live in!!! Simpler time in the post WWII era.

      1. The Sunrise Drive in. In Massapequa & All weather Drive In. Copague Both on Long Island New York.

        1. That is where our family always went. I also went there a lot with my first husband before and after we got married.

  5. Oh, the memories! As a teenager in the early stages of dating, the drive-in theater was where all of our friends were going on Saturday night. We would go double date, two couples to a car. Young innocence!

  6. The drive-in in our area had dollar nights maybe once a month. One could take the whole family for the price of one admission. My cousin insisted on hiding in the trunk even though there was room up front for him. We didn’t let him out for three days once. He never asked to go again.

  7. I remember will as a teenager with a car taking dates to the drive in. They use to be called finger bowls for a reason back than. After my stint in the Army and married with kids it was great place for my raucous kids. Those were the good days.

  8. One of my last times going to the drive-in, my new boy friend took me. On our 2nd movie date, Love Story, was feachured. I waited and waited for him to come, so i went alone. I found out the next day he had been in an accident and had passed away. It was terrible. After that I couldn’t go to drive-in’s anymore.

  9. My husband and brother were home from the Korean War and we decided to go to the drive-in. My brother was famous for running out of gas and of course we had no gas in the car when the movie ended. So off the guys went to get gas and I decided to give them a lesson. My brother’s wife Judy and I dumped our bags all over the seats to look like we had been kidnapped and climbed into the trunk of the car. After awhile a car drove up and I heard someone say “Where are the girls? They were here when we left”. Suddenly the trunk flew open and the police officer went for his gun. They had picked up the guys and got them some gas. Everyone ended up laughing but did my brother ever run out of gas again? Is the moon red?

  10. Loved the drive-in movies. We had several to choose from in Southern California. Good times. You mentioned 330 still standing…well, it is time to open them back up. I am ready for a drive-in movie. What about you?

      1. Thanks. Plus, just got word that Tailgate Fest is going to do drivein movies at the park, Whittier Narrows, I believe, this weekend and next.

  11. Believe it or not, Dillsburg, PA still has a drive-in theatre in operation today. It is along Rt 15 between Harrisburg and Gettysburg. Lots of people still enjoy it.

  12. We went to drive ins a lot when I was a kid so we took our kids to one.
    One of them had just turned 6 the week before. When I told the cashier that both of our kids were 5 and under, the one with the recent birthday blurts out “I’m 6 Dad, I’m not 5 any more!”
    Red-faced I said quickly, “His birthday is next week and he is real anxious to be older than he is.”
    They let us through, without charging us for the little bugger!

  13. I remember them well!! I grew up in Camden, NJ where the drive-in was invented. There were several in our area, growing up in the 50s and 60s. As kids we would get dressed in our pjs and when we got to the outdoor theatre, play on the playground beneath the screen until dusk. We weren’t the only kids in pjs there! I remember changing our parking spot several times until we got a speaker with good quality sound to hang on the side window. Often, we’d try to get there early to get our favorite spot in the lot. After the kids’ feature, which showed first, we were expected to fall asleep in the back of the station wagon. More than a few times I stayed awake trying to watch the “adult” feature film! (Never in bad taste, though.) Popcorn from the snack stand was a treat, but we brought our own candy and drinks from home. Fond memories from days gone by.

  14. There’s a great Beach Boys song describing those days – titled “Drive-in”!

  15. As a young boy, my older sister worked at the Refreshment Stand at the Ford Wyoming Drive-In located in Detroit, Michigan. At the time this was a one screen drive-in (1958) and my favorite treat was a chocolate Yoo-Hoo in a glass bottle. Boy was that good! In the area we also had the Dearborn Drive-In located in Dearborn, Mi naturally. As a teenager in the 60’s either of these locations were the “goto” place when one couldn’t think of something else to occupy our evenings. Dates with girls, or just hanging with the buddies, those Drive-Ins were a fun place, tinny speakers or not…sometimes all we wanted was a speaker that worked.

  16. In the mid 50’s when I was a second grader my parents would take me to Twin Drive-in Theater in Indianapolis. It had two screens back to back with different movies on each side. If I had to go to the bathroom they would have me go behind the car in the dark.Once I went with my much older brother and his girl friend. Not knowing what I did with my parents he let me out to go to the bathroom but following my past practice he was very embarrassed when his girlfriend asked what that sound was!

  17. As a boy from age 9 to 21, I loved to go to the Drive-In in Seminole, OK out North of town. Dollar carloads on Friday nights, we packed front seat, back seat and the trunk too. I had lots of good times there and so many memories with my friends both guys and girls too. I miss those days here on June 10th, I’ll be 68 but remembering makes feel like a teenager again.

    1. 1st drive in movie I saw as a kid in the backseat was some Burt Lancaster circus movie in the early 50s. Last legitimate was in Door County Wisc. in 1966. 3 couples and I forget the movie. Last actual time was 1978 or 9 at the Scio drive in near Dexter Mich. and those 2 rather ahem well known ‘adult’ movies but that place is long gone.

  18. In 1950, when I was 2 years old, my Dad, Harold Howard, built The Starlite Drive-in, in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, one of the first drive in theatres in Western Canada. Our whole family worked there! Fun times and great memories!

  19. In 1950, when I was 2 years old, my Dad, Harold Howard, built The Starlite Drive-in, in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, one of the first drive in theatres in Western Canada. Our whole family worked there! Fun times and great memories!

  20. Drive Drivein theater in McHenry Illinois purchased earlier this year and opened during pandemic and so far, even with social distancing restrictions, has gotten off to a wonderful start. They even have begun hosting local graduation ceremonies, which otherwise couldn’t take place due to virus.

    Wonderful for all the kids graduating…high school, middle school, whomever asks. New owner providing facility at no charge for graduation ceremonies.

    And locals seem to be thoroughly enjoying their trips down memory lane. Wonderful times and wonderful memories of nights spent with friends at drive in theatres. Wasn’t so much about what movie was playing but more about hanging with everyone! Better world then, or sure seemed so.

  21. I grew up in Cherry Hill NJ and the Garden State Drive In was the go-to place for the family for years. Also for my dates with my future husband in high school. And yes, we watched the movie! It was one of the oldest drive-ins. Right outside Camden NJ. 1950s and 60s!

  22. Growing up in the late 50’s and 60’s, I remember going to the drive in with my parents and older relatives in the back seat, in my pajamas. Then as a teenager with friends. My first real date was at the drive in. Just in the Southern Indiana area of New Albany and Jeffersonville were the Lakewood, New Albany, Clarksville, Twin Drive Ins and the Salem Drive In. And there were about that many more across the river in Louisivlle, KY. Life was simpler then…… And we still have the Georgetown Drive In today.

  23. I also have fond memories of drive-ins growing up. Once, in the 50s, my sister and I went to the restrooms, and returning got back into the wrong car, and realized it when the really old couple turned around and looked strangely at us. We just got out the other door and eventually found our own parents. Another memory was in 1967 going to a drive-in in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and they had a sign saying “a pie 50” which in English meant “on foot, 50 cents”. There were quite a few locals without cars, and they walked in with their lawn chairs and picnic baskets. Another memory in mid-70s was in central Florida, and being parked in a prime spot right between a carload of overweight people and the concession stand….lots of back-and-forth that evening!

  24. What a wonderful time to grow up! I loved the movies, Marlon Brando, John Wayne and all the rest. My daddy would give me three dollars, and would get enough food to feed all three of us. Our doxie dog would sit on the back of the back seat and bark at the screen.

    When I was a teenager it was the best place to hang with friends on Friday night.

    Our theatre was the location of the scene in back to the futureIII when Marty drives the Delorian into the screen. The screen disappears and the Indians are riding quickly with war whoops and all!

    If you look back and mid left you can see the tops of a few cars, and watch for telephone poles which bordered Sierra highway! That was the Lancaster, California movie theatre. It was torn down after the movie was completed. It’s too bad that they are fading away.

  25. I grew up in the “boone docks” of Northern Wisconsin. We had no drive in theaters. However, an enterprising tavern owner put up a bedsheet screen and showed movies on Saturday night. We kids had fun and usually got ice cream cones from the bar/store. Parents often spent their time having a beer and seeing their friends. During the polio scare in the 50s we kids were not allowed to get out of the car or have contact with anyone–Dad Said!

  26. Great memories of westerns, of triple features and of impressing my date by driving off with the box still attached to the driver’s window. How did they construct such tough electrical cords?
    The 1960’s summer heat was indescribable, and invariably led to iced drinks and minimum clothing.

  27. In the mid 1950s our family of five was at the drive-in in New Cumberland, Pa watching a Frankenstein movie. They had a man dressed like the Frankenstein monster walking around and when he tapped on the window on Mom’s side of the car, she freaked out. Was hard to get her back to the drive-in after that night. Years later, as a teenager, I loved going to the all-night drive-in on Memorial Day and July 4th.

  28. In ’51-’53, we as teenagers, spread our hard earned $$s between 3 drive-in’s in Sacramento, CA. These were the Fruitridge (Stockton Bl & Fruitridge Bl), the Skyview (47th Ave & Franklin Bl – across from Campbell Soup) and the Starlight (Arden Way and I-80 – across from the Wonder Bread Bakery). I got my driv lic early (age 15), so we would load my ’34 Ply 4dr sedan (suicide doors) with 4 or 5 of our ‘gang’ and head out to the Skyview, our usual drive-in, 3-4 times a month. No trunk on my ’34, so couldn’t ‘sneak’ anyone in. We would usually park near the ‘snack bar’. That way we could see the traffic of the ‘chicks’ that we hoped we could hook up with – never did. Even in later years (’68-’70) with my future and current wife (’71), we would regularly hit the Fruitridge and actually watch the movies. Didn’t need to park near the ‘snack bar’ anymore. ;-D
    Many good memories of ‘back in the day’.

    1. YES, remember drive-in!!. Many Friday nights……with girl friends, sometimes with family and yes boyfriend!! Great time with family..remember Starlight.. also 49er drive in North Sacramento…
      Good Memories….

  29. I met my future wife at a drive-in in San Antonio, Tx on Christmas night, 1964. I was the part time ticket boy and my future wife’s mother was the cashier. During intermission, I saw this young girl walking up the entrance and I assummed she was in distress. I sort of ran down to her and asked her if she needed any help. She said NO, I’m just gloing to see my mother!. A year and five days later we were married. The marriage lasted over 52 years; my wife passed away on 18 Oct 2018.

  30. So sorry for your lose, but I’m sure you have many fond memories.;-(

    1. Thanks Rich. Wonderful memories that all started on Christmas night, 1964, at the drive-in.

  31. I have fond memories of the drive-in in the 50’s and 60’s. Mom would put us kids in our P.J.s, we’d grab our pillows & stuffys, mom grabbed a big blanket and then dad would pack us all up in the station wagon and off we’d go see one of those Hercules or Roman movies of the day. I was entranced by those little speakers that hung in the driver’s window and dad would sometimes move us if it didn’t work or have “great” sound. I was fascinated by those dancing snacks… popcorn boxes, etc… encouraging people to visit the snack bar; but my all time favorite part was watching those original Pink Panther shorts and usually fell asleep shortly afterwards, wrapped in that big blanket with my pillow. I always woke up in my bed, unaware of dad carrying us back in when we got home, lol.

    Later on in the late 80’s, my husband & I took our kids to the drive-in to see Anaconda. The memories were still there… the kid’s playground, snack bar and dancing snacks… only now there were 4 or 5 screens showing different movies, the sound came through your radio and families also came in pickups with their dogs, parking backwards; placing lawn chairs in the bed and bringing ice chests of drinks and snacks. The whole thing was just as wonderful as what I remembered. Sadly, some 5yrs or so later, it closed down despite the crowds that always came and was sold to some developer. Wish they’d bring them back.

  32. When I was a teenager in the ’60s in Orange County, California, my parents wouldn’t let me go to the drive-in (aka Passion Pit) on dates. I would find a walk-in theater showing the same movie as the drive-in at the approximate same time and say that we were going there. Drive-ins were so much more fun! Aside from “making out,” you could talk and eat without disturbing anyone.

  33. tiare martyn :2020
    Honolulu Hawaii
    SO many wonderful Memories the “50 ” Fifty’s had alot to offer & the Drive -In was one of It’s perks …Waialae DRIve-In had a small play ground in the center , next to the concession With a few swings & a sliding board ! & Benches where we could sit on & Snack on popcorn ,hot dog Cheeseburgers M&M & red vines as we watch the movie that played & shared what we had with new Acquaintance watching the movie outside of the car ,My dad had a 57 Chevy baby blue & white inside out ..We also went to Kailua DRIVE-IN Which rain most of the time & lots of mosquitoes. my mom would pack dinner & snack when we drove to over the PALI ! But. Time pass into the late Sixty’s & Now I had a car of my own Friday night a few of us who Had our Driver’s license and a car would meet at KAM DRIVE-IN parking our cars next to one another Turning the speakers on , I loved sitting on top of the hood of the car, of course iwe always parked in the last Roll , So we wouldn’t block anyone’s View .
    Beach chairs or mats Scattered n front of our cars I began at that age to appreciate how beautiful & special just being outside Under the Stars on a clean night with a chill in the air with friends ! Kam DRIVE-IN was Turn into a swap meet & soon will cleard For a new development !! Good Old Days.

  34. As a teenager in the late 50’s & 60’s, the drive-ins were a great place for taking your date. I can remember some movies, like James Bond and Blue Hawaii and some others, but it was best for romance.

  35. I remember 3 drive ins growing up in the Bronx New York and parents had a summer home in Dutchess County. The Whitestone was in the Bronx and never went there but when the soft porn hit in the 70’s you could catch a glimpse of it if we were coming back from Long Island visiting family.
    The Fishkill Drive In in Fishkill NY was the one that my mom and dad took us. Mom was coming back from the snack shop with the loaded cardboard tray and was trying to get her attention. They had a skunk problem and they caught the smell of the hot dogs and following my mom. She turned and screamed her head off and ran past the car and kept on going! Someone brought her back to the car in his and the last time she ever got out of the car for the snack bar. Last movie I saw at the Fishkill was Smokey and the Bandit. Both were torn down apartment building in the Bronx and a Supermarket in Fishkill.
    But the last time I was at the drive in was in the 80’s and saw “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” at the Hyde Park Drive in just north of Poughkeepsie NY. I believe that one is still going strong considering that President Franklin D Roosevelt home was in Hyde Park and would drive his specially equipped Ford convertible to watch a movie across the street and up the road from his family’s home. I believe it’s on the historical register of New York State.

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