Lesson #161: Drive-ins

My brother called from Boston last night to work out a few details about my impending move/visit to see him as I pass through. Somehow in the course of our hour long conversation, we got onto the subject of movies. He and his wife went to the drive-in last night to see Iron Man, which he recommended — I saw in Jerusalem — and Shrek 4, which he thought was stupid — which I had guessed from the previews. I have never been been to the drive-in.

Somewhere years ago, I heard that there were only about 50 operational drive-ins remaining in the United States. This was probably around the time my friends and I went apple picking in the backwoods of Maryland one weekend and ended up making friends with the owner of the local drive-in. Somewhere, there are pictures. That place is shut down now. It might even have been shut down then, but the screen was still there as was the little cafe next to it where we had lunch.

Imagine my surprise when I decided to go see what I could find out about drive-ins now and discovered that there is a whole website dedicated to telling you where to go, should you want to go. According to said website, there are 374 drive-ins operating in 47 states (all but Alaska, Delaware and Louisiana) and 66 across Canada.

The highest concentration of drive-ins run across the steel belt: Pennsylvania has the most active drive-ins with 34, followed by Ohio which has 30 and Indiana rounds out the top four with 20.* I don’t know if this says something in particular or if it’s just a coincidence.

1958 was the peak year for the popularity of the drive-in with 4063 open theatres, including 382 in Texas alone.** Popularity began to wane in 1959 and plateaued for a few years in the late 60s and early 70s (between 1967 and 1972, the number of drive-ins slid only from 3384 to 3342)*** before falling again. The downfall was fairly consistent until the mid-1980s when the number of drive-ins was reduced by 25% to 999 in 1986, the first time the number had been under 1000 since 1948 when there were 820. There was a continued slow decline in the 1990s and the numbers leveled off in the 2000s with more or less 400 open drive-ins.

Your Jeopardy trivia tidbit for the day: The first drive-in was opened in Camden, New Jersey in June 1933.

*New York is third with 29.

**I’ve lived in Texas; somehow this makes perfect sense.

***As a historian, I find this very interesting because these were the peak years of global revolutionary fervour and in the US, anti-war sentiment.

2 thoughts on “Lesson #161: Drive-ins

  1. Angie says:

    I actually went to the drive in several times as a kid with my parents. I think I also went as a teenager and necked with my boyfriend at the time, although that memory is quite a bit fainter. This makes total sense, as I grew up in the heart of steel country (Bethlehem, PA). I always assumed drive ins were popular where I was because they were relatively inexpensive to attend, but also relatively fast and cheap to put up (important during the times when steel country grew like crazy). It’s also an area of the country where it’s a reasonable temperature to attend such an event for much of the year (no 6 month winters like up north or 110 degree summers like down south).

    If you’ve never been, I highly recommend the experience. To get the full treatment, make sure you sneak in some extra friends in the trunk to save on admission.

  2. Rachel says:

    Two notes about this…

    1.) Heck yes – Jersey is reppin’! (obligatory response)

    2.) I went to the drive-in in Amarillo with Denny to see a double-feature of “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Transformers.” The latter rocked my world; neither the former nor the company did.

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