80 Years Ago in Pop Culture: Drive In and Watch a Movie

Richard Hollingshead opened the first outdoor movie theater in Camden, New Jersey on June 6 eighty years ago. 1933 was the height of the Great Depression, when 25% of the U.S. population was unemployed.  A can of Campbell soup cost ten cents.  So did a gallon of gasoline.SnackBarAd

Movie tickets cost fifty-one cents.  Hollingshead charged a quarter a car plus a quarter per person, with no group paying more than a dollar.  So that those in the back had as good a view as those in front, he graded the lot at a five percent incline.

Hollingshead called his business Park-in Theaters.  He advertised as entertainment for the whole family, “regardless of how noisy the children are,” and no one had to leave their car unless they had a yen for popcorn and a Coke.  The concept caught on.

By 1946 there were three hundred drive-ins across the country.  By 1957 there were six thousand with a weekly audience of thirty-five million.  The growth paralleled the movement to suburbia, the increase in car ownership, and a shortage of baby sitters.

The smallest theaters accommodated fifty automobiles.  One of the largest, the All-Weather Drive-In Theater in Copiague, New York, had room for 2,500 cars.  It also offered an amusement park for frisky kids, a cafeteria serving hot dogs and pizza for randy teenagers, and an indoor, air-conditioned theater for anyone seeking relief on a hot summer night.  Needless to say, no one was ever bored, went hungry, or wilted from the humidity.

Decades later drive-ins have pretty much gone the way of landline telephones, done in by technology. First color televisions, followed by video players and DVDs, captured the audience’s attention.  Today theater owners find it too expensive to switch to digital equipment for a shrinking number of viewers who would rather stay home and pop Orville Redenbacher in the microwave than go out.

But, for anyone craving a trip down memory lane, some drive-ins are still around, many with multiple screens.  Coast to coast there’s the Randall Drive-in In Bethel, Maine and the Mayfield Road in Chardon, Ohio.  At the South Bay Theater near San Diego, Iron Man 3, Fast & Furious 6, and The Hangover Part 3 are playing.  Grown Ups 2 is coming soon!

For an Ozoner, that’s anyone who enjoys watching a movie under the stars, it’s going to be a great summer.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

And a Google doodle:


  1. linda hersch says:

    did anyone go to the drive in to watch the movie?

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