Question of the Week
What New Jersey resident invented the drive-in movie theater?
Answer: Richard Hollingshead
It was 80 years ago this month that the world’s first drive-in movie theater opened near Camden, New Jersey. Originally called a “park-in” theater, moviegoers paid a quarter per person and another quarter per car to park in front of a large screen and watch a film from the comfort of their automobiles. The theater opened on June 6, 1933, with a showing of the British comedy, Wives Beware.
Credit for this invention goes to Richard Hollingshead of Riverton, New Jersey. He began by tinkering with a movie projector and screen in his backyard, and obtained a patent for his design in May 1933. At his theater, he placed cars on raised rows so each car could view the screen unobstructed. Hollingshead opened his first theater along Crescent Boulevard in Pennsauken Township. Once completed, the “Automobile Movie Theatre” held about 400 cars. The 30x40-foot screen was hidden from outsiders by fences and trees. Hollingshead mounted speakers onto the sides of the screen, and sound from the drive-in could be heard for miles around.
Due to the lack of profits and poor sound and movie quality, the Crescent Boulevard theater closed in 1936 and was reopened by a new owner in Union, New Jersey. Hollingshead’s patent was eventually overturned, and by the 1950s and 1960s, the nation boasted thousands of drive-ins.
More images of local movie theaters can be found in the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (#V07). Additionally, HSP has a large collection of theatre posters (#V06) and many other resources related to the history of the area's visual and performing arts scenes.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.