Dusk Dreams: an abridged history of drive-in movie theaters

This 1959 'Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow' movie would be a likely feature movie out at the Drive-In

This 1959 'Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow' movie would be a likely feature movie out at the Drive-In

Though no longer prevalent today, drive-in movie theaters were extremely popular in the 1950's. Richard M. Hollingshed was the inventor of the first drive-in theater. His idea was to put a larger than life screen outdoors and have people park their cars in front and watch a movie at night. In 1932 he obtained a patent for the very first drive-in theater in the state of New Jersey. Even though the patent was later declared invalid, the trend caught on all over the country. Local racetrack, Portland Speedway even had an amphitheater. When the track remodeled in 1946, a large screen was installed so on non-race nights the facility could simply be used as a drive-in. By 1948, there were 820 registered drive-ins across the country. In the 50’s the drive-in trend really took off. By 1958, there were more than 5,000 drive-ins in the U.S. and many popping up on other continents. They were a perfect solution for every age demographic. There were often playgrounds for children to run and play, seclusion for dates and adults, and a fun place for groups to hang out and watch a cheesy movie while enjoying some concession food. Drive-ins were also a wonderful place to show off your hot rod.

In Copiague, New York one of the largest drive-ins conceived had enough space for 2,500 cars. Side attractions like miniature golf and animal shows brought families in early before dark. By the 80’s the curtain had closed on the drive-in's popularity. Though many were still in open, lack of attendance was putting them out of business. This is because VCRs and cable TVs were whirring to life. Why go out to see a movie when families could watch Hollywood’s biggest hits from the comfort of their own homes? Today, the heartbeat of the drive-in is faint but still beating though nowhere near as popular or widespread as in their heyday. Even though the act of watching a movie may not seem related to automobiles, drive-in movie theaters were a key part of car culture and American history.

Our screen in the World of Speed main gallery was modeled after the one installed at the Portland Speedway in 1946.

Our screen in the World of Speed main gallery was modeled after the one installed at the Portland Speedway in 1946.