The date: June 6, 1933.
The place: Pennsauken Township, NJ.
The person: Richard Milton Hollingshead, Jr.
The company: Park-In Theaters, Inc.
The event: The first drive-in theater – Automobile Movie Theatre – opened!
For me, June 6 is a special date because it is the original date of the drive-in!
Hollingshead actually applied for the patent for his drive-in on August 6, 1932, and was granted his patent on May 16, 1933. Before all this, Hollingshead was looking into creating something, not just heading up a business.
After several ideas, Hollingshead began testing out projecting a movie onto a screen and watching from a car. He did this in his backyard, putting the projector on the hood of his car, facing a sheet nailed to a tree. He even tried out bad weather options by putting on a sprinkler! Of course there were challenges, such as seeing past the car in front of you. However, with his own design of ramps and distance, to stagger the view, he was able to figure it all out.
Many accounts will say the drive-in was located in Camden, NJ; however, it was just over the border of Camden and in Pennsauken Township. The Automobile Move Theatre was close to Philadelphia and served many communities. One of the draw-ins was that you could watch a movie, even if you were obese! An ad from a newspaper showed a large woman trying to get to her seat in a theater, with a caption saying she would have no trouble at the drive-in.
Hollingshead’s drive-in did not last … either 1935 or 1936 (unsure of exact year) Hollingshead sold his theater and it “moved” to Union, NJ. Besides not getting a lot of profits, Hollingshead fought over his patent and other drive-ins that were opening. He was not receiving royalties from other drive-ins that were using his design. A few different court cases were brought up. Eventually, the US Supreme Court denied the petition. Hollingshead did receive some royalties, but the exact amount is unknown.
Our Visit (1/12/13):
Unfortunately, there aren’t any remains of the original drive-in. Here are some photos of the current location, but nothing special to show! For old photos of the first drive-in, check out the following links:
Also, if you are seriously interested in the history of the drive-ins, check out the book “Drive-In Theaters; a history from their inception in 1933” by Kerry Seagrave. It is loaded with facts and research covering any and all drive-in topic (that was my source for most of the information on this post!). “The American Drive-In Movie Theatre” by Don and Susan Sanders is a shorter text covering similar information if you want something less intense.