The Drive-In’s

Something other than the stars began to light up the skies on June 6th 1933.  In the town of Camden, New Jersey, the first drive-in movie theater was established.  Headlines gleamed with the phrase “Movie Theater Lets Cars Drive Right In.”  The idea of driving a car to watch a movie outdoors was new and unheard of.  Families were amazed; was it possible to enjoy a thriller in the comfort of your own car?  Could the movies really be premiered and screened outside on a warm summers night?

The First Drive-In Theater Camden, NJ (public domain)

Richard Hollingshead was the man who was responsible for this brilliant idea, and he would prove to the people that yes, it was truly possible for people to enjoy fantastic films, outdoors, in their own cars.  At the time no one had even thought it was possible to screen a movie outdoors, let alone build the set-up it entailed.  It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the post war surge occurred, bringing about consumerism and car culture.  The Post war had the economy was strong, the car market booming.  The combination of consumerism and car culture were the dynamic duo; it provided the family with an action packed evening of eager audience members awaiting a thrill, laugh, or scare, and of course you can’t forget the surplus of butter soaked popcorn.

Modeled after an 1950’s drive in theater (public domain)

The number of drive-in movie theaters in the United States grew rapidly: there were 155 in 1949, 800 in 1950, and an impressive 4,000 in 1958.  Families were thrilled by the birth of drive-in movie theaters as it served a major convenience; relatively priced, didn’t require any maintenance, and the children could tag along.   Admission to the drive-in during 1953 was 25 cents a person, a pretty good bargain for a night of guaranteed entertainment.

Teenagers were particularly fond of drive-in theaters.  Teens found this area as a place of privacy where they could go on dates, drink, and smoke.  Teens would see how many people they could squeeze into a car trunk to lower the admission price, while making sure they had heaping bags of popcorn to fulfill their mid movie munchies.  Teens were using the drive-ins as a way to get away from the parents while simultaneously seeking privacy and having a romantic evening.  The age sixteen became a big deal during this time, as kids were able to become licensed teens and drive.  Teenagers now had the ability to drive and had a sense of “coolness”, they were in control of themselves, and had freedom. Parents nervously bit their nails in fear of the children being safe on the road; meanwhile they were cruising on their ways to drive-ins.

Rockland Drive- In Theater (public domain)

Parents didn’t enjoy the idea of their children having the ability to drive with a date, and have an adventurous experience.  As many parents worried about the teens and cars, it also served as a way that kids could come of age into young adults as they gained independence.  All in all as a result the drive-in movie theaters became a sought after weekend destination and an icon of the 1950’s youth culture.

–       Halli Bair

Revised  (4/13/15)


Bandeen, Robert. Automobile Consumption 1940-19550 25, no. 2, 10.

Cosgrove, Ben. “‘The Luckiest Generation’: LIFE With Teenagers in 1950s America.” TIME, November 29, 2014.

Dissman, Michelle. America and the Automobile, Cars and Culture.

LIFE at the Drive-In: Photos of a Vanishing American Pastime.” LIFE.

Wing, Tim. “The Birth And Death Of The Drive-In Movie Theater.” The Projector Film And Media Journal.




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