R.M. Hillingshead of Camden, New Jersey is the man who birthed the idea of a set-up that allowed people to watch movies from their cars, and brought the concept to fruition with the first drive-in opening in New Jersey on June 6, 1933. 

Original graphic from Brad Light's Drive-In Workshop, modified by Mr. Lee

Text from the Camden Courier-Post - June 6, 1933


The world's first automobile movie theatre which has aroused national interest because of its basic patents and in which motor cars literally are transformed into private theatre boxes, will have its premiere performance tonight in the Camden Drive-In Theatre.

On the Admiral Wilson Boulevard, near the Central Airport, it occupies approximately 250,000 square feet and is comparable, in size, to Franklin Field. Eight semi-circular rows, each 50 feet deep, will accommodate 500 motor cars simultaneously. Motorists and their guests will see and hear talking pictures while they smoke, talk or partake of refreshments without annoying others in the audience.

There is a slight incline at the front of each aisle which guarantees uninterrupted vision.

The program will be a complete talking picture show and will be changed on Wednesdays and Sundays with three evening performances daily, at 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30 o'clock. 

Richard Hollingshead was a young sales manager at his dad's Whiz Auto Products, who had a hankering to invent something that combined his two interests: cars and movies.

Richard Hollingshead's vision was an open-air movie theater where moviegoers could watch from their own cars. He experimented in his own driveway at 212 Thomas Avenue, Camden, New Jersey. The inventor mounted a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, projected onto a screen he had nailed to trees in his backyard, and used a radio placed behind the screen for sound.

The inventor subjected his beta drive-in to vigorous testing: for sound quality, for different weather conditions (Richard used a lawn sprinkler to imitate rain) and for figuring out how to park the patrons' cars. Richard tried lining up the cars in his driveway, which created a problem with line of sight if one car was directly parked behind another car. By spacing cars at various distances and placing blocks and ramps under the front wheels of cars that were further away from the screen, Richard Hollingshead created the perfect parking arrangement for the drive-in movie theater experience.

The first patent for the Drive-In Theater (United States Patent# 1,909,537) was issued on May 16, 1933. With an investment of $30,000, Richard opened the first drive-in on Tuesday June 6, 1933 at a location on Crescent Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey. The price of admission was 25 cents for the car and 25 cents per person.

The design did not include the in-car speaker system we know today. The inventor contacted a company by the name of RCA Victor to provide the sound system, called "Directional Sound." Three main speakers were mounted next to the screen that provided sound. The sound quality was not good for cars in the rear of the theater or for the surrounding neighbors.

The largest drive-in theater in patron capacity was the All-Weather Drive-In of Copiague, New York. All-Weather had parking space for 2,500 cars, an indoor 1,200 seat viewing area, kid's playground, a full service restaurant and a shuttle train that took customers from their cars and around the 28-acre theater lot.

The two smallest drive-ins were the Harmony Drive-In of Harmony Pennsylvania and the Highway Drive-In of Bamberg, South Carolina. Both drive-ins could hold no more than 50 cars.

An interesting innovation was the combination drive-in and fly-in theater. On June 3, 1948, Edward Brown, Junior opened the first theater for cars and small planes. Ed Brown's Drive-In and Fly-In of Asbury Park, New Jersey had the capacity for 500 cars and 25 airplanes. An airfield was placed next to the drive-in and planes would taxi to the last row of the theater. When the movies were over, Brown provided a tow for the planes to be brought back to the airfield.


 In 1932, sales manager at Whiz Auto Products, Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. nailed a screen to a tree in his yard at 212 Thomas Avenue, Camden, New Jersey. He then placed a projector on the hood of his car, parked a bunch of cars in the driveway and proceeded to show a movie. This was all a test to work out the kinks before building the world's first drive-in.

On  May 16, 1933 Richard Hollingshead was granted United States Patent # 1,909,537 for the Drive-In Theater.

Richard Hollingshead secured three investors, Willie Warren Smith, Edward Ellis and Oliver Willets, and raised $30,000.00 and on May 19, 1933 the construction of the world's first drive-in began.

On Tuesday June 6, 1933 on Crescent Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey, going by the name 'Drive-In Theatre', the world's first drive-in opened for business.

The original price to enter was $.25 for the car, $.25 per person with a $1.00 maximum.

Backyard Theater - Outdoor Movies


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