The First Drive In Theater

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Adapted from On This Day in History at The Stars Hollow Gazette

In 1933, eager motorists parked their automobiles on the grounds of Park-In Theaters, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, located on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey.


The drive-in theater was the creation of Camden, New Jersey, chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr., whose family owned and operated the R.M. Hollingshead Corporation chemical plant in Camden. In 1932, Hollingshead conducted outdoor theater tests in his driveway at 212 Thomas Avenue in Riverton. After nailing a screen to trees in his backyard, he set a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car and put a radio behind the screen, testing different sound levels with his car windows down and up. Blocks under vehicles in the driveway enabled him to determine the size and spacing of ramps so all automobiles could have a clear view of the screen. Following these experiments, he applied August 6, 1932, for a patent of his invention, and he was given U.S. Patent 1,909,537 on May 16, 1933. That patent was declared invalid 17 years later by the Delaware District Court.

Hollingshead’s drive-in opened in New Jersey June 6, 1933, on Admiral Wilson Boulevard at the Airport Circle in Pennsauken, a short distance from Cooper River Park. It offered 500 slots and a 40 by 50 ft (12 by 15 m) screen. He advertised his drive-in theater with the slogan, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” (The first film shown was the Adolphe Menjou film Wife Beware.) The facility only operated three years, but during that time the concept caught on in other states. The April 15, 1934, opening of Shankweiler’s Auto Park in Orefield, Pennsylvania, was followed by Galveston’s Drive-In Short Reel Theater (July 5, 1934), the Pico in Los Angeles (September 9, 1934) and the Weymouth Drive-In Theatre in Weymouth, Massachusetts (May 6, 1936). In 1937, three more opened in Ohio, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with another 12 during 1938 and 1939 in California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Texas and Virginia. Michigan’s first drive-in was the Eastside, which opened May 26, 1938, in Harper Woods near Detroit.

Early drive-in theaters had to deal with noise pollution issues. The original Hollingshead drive-in had speakers installed on the tower itself which caused a sound delay affecting patrons at the rear of the drive-in’s field. Attempts at outdoor speakers next to the vehicle did not produce satisfactory results. In 1941, RCA introduced in-car speakers with individual volume controls which solved the noise pollution issue and provided satisfactory sound to drive-in patrons.


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    • TMC on June 9, 2011 at 6:18 am

    How do you do that? Heh. Easy, she says, just hide under a blanket in the back of Dad’s van.  

  1. one time, we saw “Papillon,” and uncomfortable questions were raised, by me, the youngest, about dustin hoffman’s character in the dark: What’s he doing, Dad?  No answer.  

    From a child’s perspective, that (male-on-male) scene from Papillon was only out of my range culturally, but not intellectually.  Had someone simply said, this is sexual behavior amongst men, I would have bought it, no questions, no shame.  But this was the early seventies, and Archie Bunker families did not cop to many basic truths.

    For the most part, drive-ins were awesome, including those stupid shitty speakers and heaters that one had to pull into the windows.  For us kids it was popcorn and goodnight.  Thanks for the sleeping bag, Mom and Pops.  We’re just happy to be here.  

    • mplo on June 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Drive-In movie Theatres were great.  I still remember my parents taking my siter and I (my brother hadn’t yet come into the world) out to a  nice restaurant for dinner and then going to a drive-in movie afterwards.  My sister and I would be in the back seat of our station wagon, with pillows and blankets, and then fall asleep while my parents watched the movie.  Sometimes, I watched the movie, too.  The Fresh Pond Drive-In movie theatre, in Cambridge, MA, which closed long, long ago, is where we frequently went.  

    The only disadvantage of drive-in movie theatres is that they’re not that season-friendly in our neck of the woods.  They were open only in the summers, pretty much.  Sometimes, I wish I could a great classic film like West Side Story on a big drive-in movie theatre screen.  I bet that would be cool!

  2. The last fireworks display.  The last driver’s ed public school class.  The last ham radio station.  The last public pay telephone.  The last version of WinBlows.  The last IRS tax return.  The last doctor visit and the last visit to a gas station.   A ponderance of lasts from the Lasthorseman.  And yeah, I am out of beer once again.

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