History of the Drive-In Movie Theater
The story of the drive-in movie theater begins with one man. That man was Richard Milton Hollingshead, Jr., born on February 25, 1900, the "father" of the drive-in.
The drive-in got its humble beginnings in the driveway of Hollingshead’s Riverton, New Jersey home, at 212 Thomas Avenue. This is where his first experimentations took place. Setting a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of the family car, he projected the film onto a screen he had nailed to a tree. He tested the potential hazards of foul weather by turning on his lawn sprinkler to simulate a rainstorm. His home radio sitting behind the screen to provide sound, Hollingshead sat in his car watching and listening. The car windows up or down, sprinkler on or off, he liked what he saw and heard. And with that, the drive-in’s inception was well under way.
Of course there were a great many problems to work out. But once he felt he finally had his major problems solved, Hollingshead landed the financial backing needed for his venture. His major partner was Willie Warren Smith, also of Riverton. Smith was a cousin and operator of parking lots in Camden, New York, and Philadelphia. The two men formed a company they called Park-In Theaters, Inc. As soon as his patent was granted, Hollingshead assigned it to this company. Other backers in the venture included road contractor Edward Ellis, who graded the first drive-in in exchange for company stock; and Oliver Willets, a Campbell’s Soup vice president who bought stock in the new company.
Construction did not get under way until May 16, 1933, the day the patent was officially granted. The world’s first drive-in opened on Tuesday, June 6, 1933. Most sources site Admiral Wilson Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey, as the location. When actually the theater was just over the Camden town line, from which point outward the street was called Crescent Boulevard. Pennsauken Township was the location. The theater was called the Automobile Movie Theatre. The marquee simply stated "Drive-in Theatre."
Opening night drew a full house. Many were there for free, however, as Hollingshead and Smith had distributed free passes to as many local media as they could. The first film ever shown at a drive-in was the 1932 release Wife Beware, starring Adolphe Menjou. The partners complained they were not able to obtain a first-run film from a distributor. This was due to the fear that the gate at indoor houses would be lessened. This problem would plague drive-ins forever. Many shorts accompanied the feature. Admission was twenty-five cents per person. Three or more in a car were admitted for the price of one dollar.
Initially the plan was to have three shows a night. There would be one at 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30 P.M. But in order to fit all shows in, films had to be edited. This system did not work well. Apparently the partners realized this mistake early; for after only the second night, the schedule was changed to...