Drive-in Theaters

A History from Their Inception in 1933


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About the Book

A primarily American institution (though it appeared in other countries such as Japan and Italy), the drive-in theater now sits on the verge of extinction. During its heyday, drive-ins could be found in communities both large and small. Some of the larger theaters held up to 3,000 cars and were often filled to capacity on weekends.
The history of the drive-in from its beginnings in the 1930s through its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s to its gradual demise in modern-day America is thoroughly documented here: the patent battles, community concerns with morality (on-screen and off), technological advances (audio systems, screens, etc.), audiences, and the drive-in’s place in the motion picture industry.

About the Author(s)

Cultural historian Kerry Segrave is the author of dozens of books on such diverse topics as drive-in theaters, lie detectors, jukeboxes, smoking, shoplifting and ticket-scalping. He lives in British Columbia.

Bibliographic Details

Kerry Segrave
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 296
Bibliographic Info: 67 photos, tables, appendices, references, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006 [1992]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2630-0
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9170-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction      vii

1. A Backyard Invention      1

2. Patent Battles      11

3. A Very Slow Start, 1933–1944      17

4. Postwar Surge, 1945–1949      35

5. Drive-ins Battle the Industry      52

6. Communities Battle Drive-ins      60

7. The Golden Years, 1950s      64

8. The Golden Years, Showmanship      78

9. The Golden Years, Selling Food      89

10. Strange Drive-ins      99

11. Foreign Drive-ins      104

12. Drive-ins Battle the Elements      115

13. Drive-ins Pray for a Miracle      126

14. Drive-in Sound      135

15. The Audience      142

16. Sex in the Drive-in      148

17. Sex on the Drive-in      153

18. Decline and Stagnation, 1960s and 1970s      169

19. Rapid Descent, 1980s and Beyond      182

20. Conclusion      197


     1. Richard Hollingshead Patent      203

     2. Architect’s Ground Plan for Camden Drive-in      215

     3. Louis Josserand Patent      216

     4. Early Drive-ins      222

     5. Financial Data      227

     6. Number of Drive-ins, by State      233

     7. Monthly Film Attendance by Type of Theater, 1952–1954      237

Notes      239

Bibliography      261

Index      275

Book Reviews & Awards

A Library Journal Starred Review
“a well-researched study…filled with nostalgia of tinted windshields. Highly recommended”—Library Journal; “[a] very thorough and straightforward history of the ‘ozoner’ industry…recommended”—Choice; “everything I wanted to know about drive-in theaters”—Big Reel; “a rich trip down memory lane. Segrave tells this riveting story in a very enjoyable style…a fascinating look at the figures in building and operation”—Old Cars Weekly.