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When Was the First Drive-Thru Restaurant Created?

In 1947, the first drive-thru restaurant was created in Springfield, Missouri.
Despite being famous for its drive-thrus, McDonald's did not operate one until 1975.
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The first drive-thru restaurant was created in 1947 by Sheldon "Red" Chaney, operator of Red's Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri. Located on the famous Route 66, the restaurant served customers until its closure in 1984. Several other companies lay claim to having invented the first restaurant of this kind, including the In 'N Out burger chain, which didn't open a drive-thru until 1948, and Jack in the Box, founded in 1951. Fans of trivia may be interested to know that the first business establishment to have a drive through option was not a restaurant, but a bank, the City Center Bank in Syracuse, New York, which opened a drive-thru in 1928 for the convenience of busy bank customers.

According to local legend, Sheldon Chaney originally operated a gas station and hotel, and later decided to transition to selling hamburgers to motorists traveling along Route 66. The unusual name of his restaurant is attributed to a measuring error made while creating the sign and the business name is sometimes written as "Red's Giant Hamburgs." Chaney envisioned a restaurant meant to remind people of picnicking, complete with picnic-style decor to make people feel like they were eating outdoors. When the business closed in 1984, the city ordered Chaney to remove various decorative items like a vintage car from the front of the restaurant, and it was torn down entirely in 1997.

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The creation of a drive-thru option for guests allowed Chaney to cut business costs by eliminating carhop service, a mainstay of fast food restaurants during this era. The drive-thru phenomenon spread quickly throughout the United States and by the 1950s restaurants of this kind were very common in many communities, and businesses overseas were beginning to adopt them. Further design elements like adding a microphone to allow people to order before reaching the window were added by other innovative restaurateurs.

Disputes over who deserves the credit for being the first drive-thru restaurant can be seen in a number of sources. Some restaurants are given the credit with no date attribution, while others are credited with the invention despite clearly dating from a later era than Red's Giant Hamburg; McDonald's, for example, didn't operate a drive-thru until 1975. As of 2010, no informational sign was present at the site of Red's Giant Hamburg, although some community members were lobbying to create a historical marker.

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anon354574
Post 21

The McDonald's Brothers of San Bernardino CA opened up a BBQ place around 1940 - In 1948 it was converted to a Hamburger place - Sorry, no Drive-Thru at that time - Later, in the 1950s, Ray Kroc (Who sold milkshake making equipment) liked what he saw and eventually bought the business - THEN McDonald's was to take it's place in history! But the business actually started over a decade before...

indemnifyme
Post 18

@bagley79 - I would have guess McDonald's invented the drive-thru window also! McDonald's is arguably the most popular fast food restaurant in the United States; there is a McDonald's in almost every town. I always assumed part of their success was because of their invention of the drive-thru.

Anyway, it's too bad the guy who originally came up with the idea of the drive-thru didn't patent the idea. He could be very rich by now!

Ted41
Post 17

I had no idea the first kind of business to have a drive-thru was a bank! To be honest, I pretty much take drive-thru services for granted, because there are just so many of them! I live in a small suburb, but I have many drive-thru restaurants available to me, drive-thru at the bank, a drive-thru option at the pharmacy, and, last but not least, a drive-thru coffee shop!

strawCake
Post 16

It's interesting that creating the drive-thru allowed the owner of Red's Giant Hamburg to cut costs. I wonder if this is what motivated him to create the first drive-thru? Most people think of a drive-thru as convenient, but maybe Mr. Red was only thinking about his profits!

JessicaLynn
Post 15

@Mykol - I agree. It seems like the town of Springfield could have turned the restaurant into a tourist attraction. They could have made the building into a museum about the restaurant and how it had the first drive thru! It would have been really neat if they restored the restaurant to what it looked like when it first opened the drive thru!

Most people love the idea of a drive thru, and use them all the time. I think this kind of museum would probably have been successful. I know if I were in the area, I would totally go see the site of the first drive thru restaurant!

Mykol
Post 14

If Red's Giant Hamburg was truly the first drive-thru restaurant I hope the local citizens are successful at getting some kind of historical marker placed where the restaurant was.

It is too bad the whole restaurant had to be torn down. I hope someone had taken some good pictures of it through the years. I have seen historical markers for places that had much less of an impact on our country than the drive-thru restaurants have had.

honeybees
Post 13

There are a couple things a very busy restaurant can do to speed up the line at the drive-thru. I like it when they have one person who collects the money and you drive forward to another window to pick up your food.

This can cut your time in half when you have a long line at the drive-thru. Some restaurants also have two lanes instead of just one. As long as they have enough staff to cover both lanes, you can move several cars through pretty quickly.

I think the drive-thru restaurant concept changed the way we eat food in America. Much of our life is lived on the go, and this really caters to that busy lifestyle.

julies
Post 12

If I am eating fast food, very seldom do I go inside the restaurant any more. Sometimes if the line for the drive-thru is really long, I am tempted to go inside and place my order, but I am usually disappointed.

For some reason it seems like the drive-thru line moves faster than the lines inside. I also like having the chance to look at the menu board before getting to the spot where I place my order. If I am not quite sure what I want, this gives me more time to make a decision and not make other people wait so long behind me.

bagley79
Post 11

My first guess for the first drive-thru restaurant would have been McDonald's, but it sounds like they came on the scene much later.

I wonder if the man who opened up the first drive-thru had any idea how popular this concept would become. I think the success of the fast food drive-thru restaurants has led the way for other companies to do the same thing.

I use a drive-thru window service to pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy and pick up my dry cleaning as well as stop on the way home and pick up some fast food.

cyprus
Post 4

Thanks for your comment about the tavern window. A tavern is different from a restaurant, so that must be why the In and Out is considered the first drive though restaurant. There appears to be only 1 line of research information that the Seven Stars was the world's first drive through window.

I would like to know if they served food through the window, but there seems to be no further research available. The Seven Stars' window opened in 1762 and taverns back then typically served only 1 meal a day. It would be interesting to know more.

anon70802
Post 3

Seven Stars Tavern Pilesgrove, NJ. First drive through window in the world.

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