“Car culture” was booming in post-World War II America. Millions of GIs had got themselves a degree, a job, a wife, a house in the suburbs, and now...a car. Some folks even had two. And in these “happy days,” we saw fresh-faced suburbanites driving more than ever.
They drove to the supermarket, the department store, family reunions, and exotic American locales. This was the era of Route 66, Las Vegas, and family camping. Cars were power. In Eisenhower’s America, most (white) Americans could afford one. And with gas at just 15, 20, 25 cents a gallon…families adapted to this new “modern” way of life.
Naturally, drive-ins began to flourish.
Two other important cultural changes happened in America during this time that really solidified the drive-in as a kind of cultural myth.
We invented the teenager.
Before the 1950s, before the baby boomers, American society was made up of children and adults. Somewhere between age 14 and 19, a child grew up and became an adult. But during this era of rising American affluence, the growth of marketing and advertising led to the categorizing of young white kids with cash—either earned cash or allowance cash—as “teenagers.” And suddenly, the whole world seemed to revolve around them. (It still does.)
Teenagers needed a place to assert their…stunted adolescence. And for many, the drive-in was ideal: little or no adult supervision, relative privacy, and…inexpensive entertainment.