Celebrating the Anniversary of the First Drive-In Theater

A few days ago I was flipping through some old gardening magazines that I’ve had laying around for over a year when I came across a short article that talked about the origins of the drive-in theater.

I have some fond memories of watching movies at drive-in theaters when I was younger and I love looking at pictures of old drive-ins, so it prompted me to learn more about their history.

In what turned out to be quite the coincidence, I discovered that today is the 79th anniversary of the opening of the first drive-in theater in the United States. I also realized that the most recent Google Doodle was created to celebrate this anniversary.

The Origin of the Drive-In Theater

In 1933, a salesman from Camden, NJ named Richard Hollingshead came up with the idea for the drive-in theater when he set up a Kodak projector on his car, hung sheets on trees in his yard, and used a radio for sound.

After receiving a patent for his new invention, he opened the first official drive-in theater called the Automobile Movie Theater in Camden on June 6, 1933. The first movie that was shown that night was Wives Beware (1932) starring actor Adolphe Menjou.

The Washington Post has a nice article about this story that lists some interesting facts about drive-in theaters, and you can also view the animated Google doodle there.

My First Movie at a Drive-In Theater

Okay, I’m going to be totally dating myself here, but I also wanted to mention that the first movie I remember seeing at a drive-in theater was The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), starring Don Knotts and Tim Conway, which I watched at a theater in Appleton, Wisconsin with my dad and sister.

A few years later we went to see a double feature of The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979) and Freaky Friday (1976), and I remember being really bummed because I fell asleep during the second movie. My 9-year old self just couldn’t stay awake that late I guess. :-) What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back and relive those days!

Do you remember the first (or any) movie that you saw at a drive-in theater? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below or join me in a discussion on my Facebook page.

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4 Responses
  1. Kristen says:

    It really makes me sad that drive-ins are now considered “a thing of the past.” The only drive-in in my area is over an hour away. They really need a resurgence!

    • Ginny says:

      I know, it’s one of those things I get very nostalgic about, especially since I have great memories of going with my dad who I really miss. We have one about 15 minutes from where I live, but I haven’t been there yet. It only shows current movies though so I would love to find one that shows older movies!

  2. I remember seeing Fantasia at the drive-in’s in the early 1980′s. It was the first time I had ever seen the movies and I thought it was so cool to sit in the car and watch a movie. Now, every time for go for a drive as a family my kid get to watch a movie in the car, and they don’t see what the big deal is. My how things have changed.

    • Ginny says:

      Thanks for sharing your memory, Paul! Fantasia sounds like it would have been a fun one to see. I have a teenage “Little Sister” that I’m going to be taking to see her first drive-in movie later this summer. I’ve been trying to explain to her what they were like when I was younger and she’s actually excited about going. Should be fun!

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