Happy 80th Birthday to Hollingshead’s invention

In honor of the 80th anniversary of the drive-in theater, I present the Google doodle from last year (why didn’t they wait for a round number?) and the following excerpt from Drive-in Theaters: A History from Their Inception in 1933 by Kerry Segrave. This little bit is about the invention of the drive-in by Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. You can find the full review of this book elsewhere on Carload.

In the driveway of his Riverton NJ home at 212 Thomas Avenue, Hollingshead experimented. 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 foul-weather potential by turning on the lawn sprinkler to simulate a rainstorm. …

Sitting in his vehicle, Hollingshead realized that a car parked in front of his would obscure the view. For many weeks, he continued his experiments, placing one car behind another, 40 feet apart. Blocks were put under the front wheels of both cars until he got the proper angle to allow the driver in the second vehicle to see over the car ahead. …

(The problem of sound) was turned over to the RCA Victor Company, next-door neighbors in Camden to the Hollingshead company plant. … RCA came up with what they called controlled directional sound. It meant, they claimed, that everyone in the theater received the same volume of sound – delivered, in this case, by three central speakers. …

Construction of the project did not begin until May 16, when the patent was officially granted. … (Despite serious) labor problems, construction was completed in less than three weeks.

The world’s first drive-in opened on Tuesday, June 6, 1933. Most sources give the location as Admiral Wilson Boulevard, Camden NJ. Actually, the theater was just over the Camden town line, from which point outward the street was called Crescent Boulevard. The location was Pennsauken Township. The theater was called the Automobile Movie Theatre; the marquee simply read “Drive-In Theatre.”

That’s just one small, snipped sample of the best drive-in history book I’ve read so far, and I encourage you to find a copy to read the rest of the account.

The drive-in theater started with baby steps, sprouted in its teenage years (1946-1952), then became a national success as a young adult. It slowed down as a relatively young middle-aged adult, but it’s staying in shape and modern technology could keep it alive for 100 years or more. Make it a Happy Drive-In weekend by visiting a theater near you!

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