June 6, 2010

First Drive-In Movie Theater – 1933

Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in movie theater?

I did, a few times, back when I was a teen. These once-popular theaters featured a huge screen, a large parking lot for cars facing the screen, and some sort of sound system.

Of course there was also a refreshment stand. Some drive-ins had a few bleachers for non-vehicular seating, and others had playgrounds for kids between the cars and the screen.

On this day in 1933, the world's first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey.

Richard Hollingshead had invented the drive-in concept, took out a patent, and invested $30,000 on this first dr
ive-in, which featured a ramp for each car so that people would have unobstructed views of the screen. He charged 25 cents per car plus 25 cents per person (a maximum of a dollar).

This first drive-in, the Park-It Theater, had three giant speakers to go with its giant screen. Later versions featured little speakers that could be clipped onto each car window. (That's the sound system I experienced.) The speakers were connected to posts by wire, and sometimes people would forget to take them off their window and would start to drive off—usually resulting in a broken speaker, a broken window, or both! Still later drive-ins relied on car stereos to provide the sound portion of the movie.

Why Did the Drive-In Catch On?

Parents loved the low-cost, low-stress option for movie viewing—just pile all the kids into the station wagon, throw in plenty of water and snacks, and go to the movies. Parents didn't have to worry about kids being too twitchy or loud during the movie, and they could even take care of a baby while watching a movie. If the popcorn spilled, oh, well, that's kids—but at least parents didn't worry about being embarrassed or causing distress to strangers.

Teenagers and young couples, too, loved the privacy offered by sitting in a car at the movies.

In America, anything having to do with cars seemed to catch on. Drive-through restaurants were pioneered here in the US around the same time as the drive-in movie theater.

Why Did the Drive-In Die?

There are still a few drive-ins left, but most of them have died out. Some of the reasons include:
  • In many places, watching a movie out-of-doors is only possible in the summer.
  • Daylight savings time makes the hour that a summer night starts awfully late.
  • The price of land is, in most places, now too great for the huge theaters.
  • Movies at home have become even more comfortable, inexpensive, and family-friendly than movies at drive-ins. Nowadays, especially, many people have large screens and good sound systems in their home television system, and people can choose from videotapes, DVDs, cable or satellite channels, Hulu, Netflix, streaming video, and so forth.
Wait a Minute! DID the Drive-In Die???

Apparently there has been a revival of sorts of the drive-in, in a few locations, including some “guerrilla drive-ins” that are organized by groups rather than businesses. Films shown in vacant lots are an example.

Enjoy books and movies that feature drive-ins.
  • The Outsiders
  • Grease
  • Back to the Future Part III
  • Cars
Design an all-new sort of movie theater.

More and more movies are now shown in 3-D, and many are even released in a much larger IMAX format.

What would make movie viewing even better than it is now? Surround Smell-o-vision? Seats that get you into the movie by providing the movie's motion? Virtual reality goggles?

Have you ever seen a 360-degree wrap-around-you movie? Have you ever laid on your back and watched a movie on a dome that curves above you? These special sorts of screen can help you feel part of the action!

Or maybe you would like to take a step back from so much reality and have a movie theater that includes massage-seats, pedicures, foot rubs, full meals, and so forth.

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