The Drive-In Theater - A Slice of American Ingenuity

The first drive-in theater in Camden, NJ
The first drive-in theater in Camden, NJ
John and Kristina Heidel in front of their completed screen at the Goochland Drive-In Theater
John and Kristina Heidel in front of their completed screen at the Goochland Drive-In Theater

Drive-In Theaters Making A Resurgence

I can still remember going to the drive-in theater about once a month when I was a child. My mom would give us a bath beforehand and would then dress my older sister and my twin sister and I in our pajamas with the feet at the bottom. She would pop her own popcorn and we would bring our own snacks from home. She would put the back seats down in the old beat-up stationwagon to create a bed of sorts. The movie would start and we would stare in awe at the huge screen in front of us, large and luminous. Most of us would not make it through the whole movie (the reason for the pajamas, no doubt). It was something to look forward to like no other. I remember being so incredibly jealous that my older sister got to go twice to see Grease, once with us and once with the neighbors. I was so annoyed as I watched her driving away in the back of their car, waving excitedly.

As I got older, I never really thought about the drive-in anymore. I think that, being a teenager, and with so many new and exciting things to entertain ourselves, I never really gave a thought to the drive-in theater which had given me so much joy. I think deep in my heart, I also believed that they didn't exist anymore, like dinosaurs or the tooth fairy. I thought, since I never heard anything about them, that they had just died out and become extinct. The Tyrannosaurus Rex of the entertainment world, along with Caleco Vision and eight tracks. So, imagine my surprise, and sheer delight, at discovering one literally in my backyard in Goochland, Virginia! Movies, here we come!

The first drive-in theater opened in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933. Back then they only had three pairs of six foot speakers to broadcast sound. Still, 500 people turned up, at $1 a car. By the 1940's there were 95 drive-ins spread across 27 states. Ohio led the way with 11 drive-ins. When World War II began, of course production of these drive-ins slowed. The baby boom at the end of the War prompted most drive-ins to add playgrounds. Most parents let their children play on the playground and then went to get snacks at the concession stands. After that, it was movie time! During the 1950's, it wasn't just the number of drive-ins that increased, but the size too. Many began to include boat rides, pony rides, and miniature golf, among other attractions. Some even had the option to order your food from your car and have it delivered by car hops. Now that's service!

In the 1960's and 1970's, the great drive-in began to stagnate. Hardly any were being build and many catered their films to teen-agers. The 1980's almost killed the drive-in with the coming of cable TV and VCRs. In the 1990's, not many new drive-ins were built, but many existing ones began to add extra screens, which attracted new patrons. Also, a sense of nostalgia was felt. Those who used to go when they were young could now bring their own families. This has made a major difference in the resurgence of the drive-in.

Watching movies is always fun, but what is so great about a drive-in? For one, you get to stay in your own car. You don't have to deal with people behind you munching popcorn or being loud. It's also ideal for young parents who may need to feed their kids or who may feel embarrassed going to another indoor theater. Also, a big plus with the drive-in is the price. Although they no longer charge by the carful, which was much cheaper, prices range from $5 to $7 per person, much cheaper than going to a Regal cinema or the Carmike. Most drive-ins show a double feature too, which is great value for money. Also, concession stand prices tend to be much cheaper. At our local drive-in (Goochland Drive-In), nothing is over $3.50. That includes popcorn, drinks, burgers, whatever your fancy! Quite a change from our local indoor theater, where you have to refinance your house to buy a large popcorn and drink!

The biggest plus for me, though, is that I am not only living my childhood again, but I am helping a local business. My husband and I are very big on supporting local businesses, especially in this economy. As far as I know, there are no large chains of drive-in theaters. Every single one is owned by a small business owner trying to make a living. Our local theater is owned by a husband and wife with a small child who decided that they were going to make their dream of owning a drive-in theater a reality. I can't wait to show up there on Saturday night and help them to continue making their dream thrive.

My husband is from England and has never experienced a drive-in theater. Some things have changed (no more speakers, you get the sound through your car radio), but most have stayed the same. I believe that the drive-in theater was one of the best ideas around, and with the public's help, we can keep it thriving and on top. What a novel idea, to let our children and significant others experience what we loved as children. I just can't wait! Why not check out your area for a drive-in near you? It really is an experience to remember!

Check out a drive-in in your area at http://www.driveintheater.com/drivlist.htm!

Information about the history of drive-in theaters taken from www.driveintheater.com.

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Comments 6 comments

jfjones profile image

jfjones 6 years ago

I love this hub. What memories! I got chills just reading this. You hit the nail on the head!

This brings back so many memories from my childhood. The drive-in that my parents took me to on a weekly basis has long since been demolished. My family moved from that state years ago.

However, I was amazed to learn from my elderly Accountant that back in 1955 there was once a drive-in theater about 2 miles from where I am currently living. That location is now a major intersection. Wow!


ckinnear profile image

ckinnear 6 years ago from Moseley Author

Wow, thanks. :). Did you check on the website to see if there are any others near you? You never know! Fingers crossed. ;)


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

Great topic! It is a dying thing...We have one about 20 miles from our house & it's a great deal....You can eat burgers, fries, drink, & dessert with entrance for about $20.00.


duncan101 profile image

duncan101 6 years ago from Tecumseh

It is about time drive in theaters made a comeback. The absolute best time I ever had in my life were at drive in theaters. Great hub, keep up the great work.


Stacie L profile image

Stacie L 6 years ago

they still have drive in somerset KY.

I used to love going to them as a kid.

lots of good memories..=)


craig 4 years ago

just saw your post and thought you might want to see my drive-in work: http://drive-inproject.com/

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