June 6 marks the 86th anniversary of the drive-in movie theater. The first drive-in was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead of Camden, NJ, who wanted to create a more comfortable movie-going experience for people like his mother, whose size was not accommodated by conventional film-theater seats. At the height of the drive-in’s popularity, there were more than 4,000 such outdoor venues across America.
Making a living as a drive-in theater operator was difficult, and every dollar was hard-earned. Challenges to success included a limited operating season and a site requirement of at least 15 acres. Many drive-ins were built on the outskirts of town, and over time, the community grew around them.
When the gas crisis hit in the 1970s, smaller cars became more popular, and their limited interior space didn’t make for a comfortable drive-in movie experience. In addition, the multi-acre drive-in movie sites became more valuable for business development. In later years, the advent of home video revolutionized movie viewing, and made heading out to a theater less attractive for film-goers.
Although only about 350 drive-in theaters remain open in the United States, drive-in movies remain part of our popular culture.
Enjoy a vicarious drive-in movie experience with these Library films featuring scenes at the drive-in:
Back to the Future III
Drive-In Movie Memories (available on Hoopla)
Herbie Fully Loaded
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Spies Like Us