The Rise of Drive-in Movie Theaters

by Myya McGregory

Skyview Drive-in Bellville, IL from Flickr courtesy of Thomas Deusing

In the wake of the auto boom of the 1920s, Richard Hollingshead Jr., manager of Whiz Auto Products, designed the first drive-in movie theatre. Drive-ins spread from New Jersey across the United States to Italy, France, and China becoming a cool new way to experience cinema.

Experimenting with a large Kodak projector, a radio, and two large sheets, Hollingshead tested different arrangements to ensure optimal audio-visual quality.

Eventually he realized that the position of the car, and not the screen and projector, would pose the biggest problem. Drive-in movie parking could not be the same as parking lot parking. He went back to the drawing board and theorized an amphitheater style. In 1933, Hollingshead had completed his design and patented the layout for the first drive-in theatre.

The drive-in’s rise to fame was not without its obstacles. The Great Depression had taken its toll on the American wallet and technical issues plagued the drive-in. Noise pollution and lagging sound seemed to detract from perks of being able to watch a movie from the comfort of your own car.

As time went on, the drive-in theatre stepped up their technology. In the ‘40s drive-ins began providing each car with its own set of speakers so even those in the back could hear the audio in real-time.

It is quite rare to see a drive-in movie theater these days, however people still relish in the idea of watching a movie under the stars. For those who long for an outdoor movie experience, summertime is the perfect time to research outdoor movie festivals. In California and Pennsylvania drive-ins are even making a slight comeback. So, GLIMPSE readers, are you ready for a drive-in theater revival?

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One thought on “The Rise of Drive-in Movie Theaters

  1. I am in love with drive in movies and even planned an entire two week vacation around them back in the early 2000’s. We saw movies in 7 drive in’s in two weeks!

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