Drive-through businesses Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the rise of American automobile culture and consumers’ increasing need for convenient and speedy services during the twentieth century, drive-through businesses proliferated and revolutionized major industries. Drive-through establishments became a profitable part of the American landscape and economy, from fast-food dining to banking and more.

In 1923, J. G. Kirby and Dr. Reuben Wright Jackson opened the first drive-in eatery, the Pig Stand, in Dallas, Texas. A&W opened a drive-in diner in 1923, and Maid-Rite had a drive-through window when it opened in 1926. In 1951, Jack in the Box introduced the drive-through system of ordering at a two-way intercom in the parking lot and then driving to a service window to pay for and pick up an order. Sonic opened its first drive-in diner, complete with carhops, in 1952.Drive-through businesses[Drive through businesses]

Food and Gas

By 2008, most of the major American fast-food Restaurants, fast-foodchains offered drive-through service at some or all of their outlets. QSR Magazine (whose name stands for quick-service restaurant) published a statistical analysis of speed, accuracy, and customer service that listed the ten “speediest drive-thru chains” in the year 2007. They were Wendy’s, Checkers, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Long John Silver, Burger King, Arby’s, Bojangles’, Taco John’s, and Chick-Fil-A.

Another early major drive-through industry was gasoline retailing. In 1905 in St. Louis, Missouri, Clem Laessig and Harry Grenner opened the first Gas stationsgas station. By the late 1920’s, there were twenty-four-hour gas stations. In 1947, Frank Ulrich founded the first modern self-serve gas station. However, there were fewer than 3,000 self-serve stations in operation during the early 1970’s. Some 226,000 traditional full-service stations were in operation in the United States in 1973, but more than half of these businesses disappeared between 1970 and 1990. Their decline was caused partly by the rise of another drive-through phenomenon, the convenience store.

In 1927, the first modern Convenience storesconvenience store was founded when Southland Ice Company dock manager Jefferson Green began selling “convenience” products such as milk, eggs, and bread on evenings and Sundays, when local grocery stores were closed. His chain of stores was open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., which led to the chain’s officially adopting the name 7-Eleven[Seven Eleven]7-Eleven in 1946. After World War II, convenience stores grew rapidly. In 1961, the first twenty-four-hour convenience store opened. During the 1970’s, increasing numbers of convenience stores began to sell gasoline. By 2002, 80 percent of stores were using the pay-at-the-pump credit/debit card reader system, enabling speedier customer transactions. According to 2008 industry reports, motor fuel sales at convenience stores reached $405.8 billion in 2006, and convenience stores sold more than 80 percent of all gasoline purchased in the United States.

Other Businesses

Founded in 1901, Walgreen’s introduced the concept of freestanding stores with drive-through pharmacy service in 1992. This was a significant development that made it more convenient for customers to drop off and pick up prescriptions. After 1994, most new Walgreen’s stores included this service. In 2008, Walgreen’s was the nation’s largest retail Pharmaceutical industrypharmacy chain, and 80 percent of its stores offered drive-through service. This innovation became an industry standard. In 2001, CVS offered drive-through service in twelve hundred of its forty-two hundred U.S. stores. In 2006, drugstore chain Rite Aid offered the service in 43 percent of its stores.

The drive-through concept revolutionized American Banking;drive-through windowsbanking. The first drive-through bank, the Exchange National Bank of Chicago, opened on November 12, 1946. Customers could deposit or withdraw money at drive-through teller windows.

The Donut Hole, pictured in 1970, was a popular coffee and donut drive-through shop in Los Angeles.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Richard Hollingshead opened the first drive-in Motion-picture industry[Motion picture industry]movie theater on June 6, 1933, in Camden, New Jersey. After World War II, drive-ins, which provided a leisure activity the whole family could enjoy, reached their peak in popularity, with more than four thousand such theaters in the United States in 1958. With the invention of videocassette recorders in 1971, drive-in theaters started to fade in popularity.

By the twenty-first century, the drive-through concept permeated the American economy, in mom-and-pop operations as well as in national chains. Drive-through businesses included dry cleaners, car washes, liquor stores, coffee shops, casinos, and even a wedding chapel: In 1991, Charolette Richards created a drive-up window at her Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada, to accommodate handicapped patrons. The novelty soon became popular, especially among film stars and celebrities.

Further Reading
  • Bacon, John. America’s Corner Store: Walgreen’s Prescription for Success. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2004. History of Walgreen’s, which pioneered the concept of the drive-through pharmacy. Bibliography, appendix, notes, and index.
  • Hinckley, Jim, and Jon Robinson. The Big Book of Car Culture: The Armchair Guide to Automotive Americana. St. Paul, Minn.: Motorbooks, 2005. This entertaining compendium includes chapters on service stations, dinner in the car, drive-through windows, and other aspects of road culture. Illustrated with over one hundred photos. Index.
  • Jakle, John A., and Keith A. Sculle. Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Written by a geographer and a historian, this is a well-researched study of the culture of the automobile and quick-service restaurants. Illustrated, with over 100 photos. Bibliography.
  • _______. The Gas Station in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Comprehensive history, with over 150 illustrations, including vintage ads and postcards of gas stations. Notes, bibliography, and index.
  • Russell, Tim. Fill ’er Up: The Great American Gas Station. St. Paul, Minn.: Voyageur Press, 2007. Written by an eminent petroliana historian and collector, this entertaining chronicle covers the early decades of the twentieth century through the beginning of the twenty-first century. Includes vintage photography and advertisements. Illustrated. Index.
  • Segrave, Kerry. Drive-In Theaters: A History from Their Inception in 1933. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1992. Covering the history of drive-in theaters through the 1980’s, this study includes copies of the original theater patents. Illustrated. Appendixes, notes, and extensive bibliography.
  • Witzel, Michael, and Tim Steil. Classic Roadside Americana: Car Hops, Fast Food, Drive-in Restaurants, Road Trips, Route 66. St. Paul, Minn.: Crestline, 2006. Pictorial history, including descriptions of businesses, architecture, and automobile travel. Illustrated, mostly in color. Index.

Automotive industry


Fast-food restaurants

Motion-picture industry

Petroleum industry

Retail trade industry

Categories: History