On June 6, 1933, eager motorists park their automobiles on the grounds of Park-In Theaters, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, located on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey.
Park-In Theaters–the term “drive-in” came to be widely used only later–was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, a movie fan and a sales manager at his father’s company, Whiz Auto Products, in Camden. Reportedly inspired by his mother’s struggle to sit comfortably in traditional movie theater seats, Hollingshead came up with the idea of an open-air theater where patrons watched movies in the comfort of their own automobiles. He then experimented in the driveway of his own house with different projection and sound techniques, mounting a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, pinning a screen to some trees, and placing a radio behind the screen for sound. He also tested ways to guard against rain and other inclement weather, and devised the ideal spacing arrangement for a number of cars so that all would have a view of the screen.
The young entrepreneur received a patent for the concept in May of 1933 and opened Park-In Theaters, Inc. less than a month later, with an initial investment of $30,000. Advertising it as entertainment for the whole family, Hollingshead charged 25 cents per car and 25 cents per person, with no group paying more than one dollar. When it opened, it had slots for 500 cars on a series of ramps that allowed all of the patrons to see.
The first film shown was Wives Beware, starring someone named Adolphe Menjou (it hasn’t been rated yet on IMDB). Admission was 25 cents and families were encouraged to attend allowing patrons to smoke, eat, and move about without bothering fellow movie goers. The sound originally came from a speaker mounted on a tower, but that caused neighborhood problems, people in the last rows often couldn’t hear, and there was a noticeable sound delay. RCA developed the individual speaker with volume control in 1941.
The idea caught on, and after Hollingshead’s patent was overturned in 1949, drive-in theaters began popping up all over the country. One of the largest was the All-Weather Drive-In of Copiague, New York, which featured parking space for 2,500 cars, a kid’s playground and a full service restaurant, all on a 28-acre lot.
Traffic jam at the ticket booth on opening night, June 6 1933
The field which was the site of the future drive-in theater in Camden, circa 1932, the year prior to opening.
People enjoying a movie in Camden.
Sign at theater entrance