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Birth of the Drive-In

edited December 2010 in Movie Discussion

Drive-ins are a big part of movie history, so of course we couldn’t leave them out! Here’s a look at how they came to be:

It all started with Richard Hollingshead, who wanted to invent something that combined his two loves – cars and movies. His vision was an open-air movie theater where folks could watch movies from their own cars.

He had to experiment with this idea though, so he started in his own driveway New Jersey. Hollingshead mounted a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car which projected onto a screen he had nailed to trees in his backyard, and for sound he used a radio placed behind the screen.

The man did all sorts of tests to get it right – he had to perfect sound quality, deal with different weather conditions (he used a lawn sprinkler to imitate rain) and he had to figure out how to park the patron’s cars. Placing the cars was a big issue; Hollingshead tried lining up the cars in his driveway, which created visibility problems if one car was directly parked behind another car. Richard eventually created the perfect parking arrangement for the drive-in movie theater experience by spacing cars at various distances and placing ramps under the front wheels of cars that were further away from the screen.

On May 16, 1933 the first patent for the Drive-In Theater (United States Patent # 1,909,537) was issued. On Tuesday June 6, 1933, with an investment of $30,000, Richard Hollingshead opened the first drive-in at Crescent Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey. The admission price was 25 cents for the car and 25 cents per person.

At this time the design did not include the in-car speaker system we know today. Richard contacted a company called RCA Victor to provide the sound system, called “Directional Sound.” This was three main speakers that were mounted next to the screen. The sound quality was awful for cars in the rear of the theater and for the neighbors nearby.

And that readers, is how the drive-in theater was born.
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