During the 1920s, car ownership exploded. Everyday consumers were making more money and families were able to afford vehicles. In turn, businesses such as drive-in movie theaters and restaurants became more popular.
After all, if the notions that drove motorists to the open road in the first place, namely the yearning for independence and personal freedom, could be extended beyond the car to the various activities associated with travel, there would be money to be made.
Drive-in eateries date back to 1921 when a Texas chain of restaurants called the Pig Stand began incorporating the practice.
At drive-ins, customers would park their car and immediately be met by carhops who would take orders and deliver them to the kitchen. When the food was ready, the carhop would bring it back to the car for the customer to enjoy in their vehicle.
This model improved the speed and efficiency of service. Restaurants continually tried to enhance the concept by increasing the speed at which the food could get to the customers. Hence the roller-skating carhops that became a popular trend across the country.
Soon architects began looking for ways to improve these leisure-inspired structures, making them the perfect match of form and function.
This included constructing circular drive-ins, so that the carhops could get from the kitchen to the car windows more quickly, and adding canopies to shelter carhops from the sun.
Eventually, however, drive-in restaurants went into decline, replaced by the introduction of the drive-through, which negated the need for hiring carhops and saved on money and time.
At a drive-through restaurant, conversely, customers wait in a line and pass by one or more windows to order, pay, and receive their food.
California-based In-N-Out Burger became one of the first eateries to provide drive-through services as early as 1948, but it was when McDonald’s opened its first take-out window in Arizona in 1975 that the real crossover occurred. By that time, drive-in restaurants were already few and far between.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress / Delish / Livejournal / Smithsonian Museum / AAA Magazine).