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Convenience and Memories in a Drive-Thru

National Drive-Thru Day

Mention the word drive-thru and you might think of the coffee you bought this morning or maybe a special night out with your parents when you were a kid.

Drive-Thrus are as American as apple pie and hamburgers. Today you can get almost anything at a drive-thru from food and coffee to non-food items. We tend to equate drive-thrus with “fast food” but in some cases drive-thrus may go beyond those familiar fast food choices. In the Southern California city where I grew up we once had a drive-thru Italian restaurant where you could order a bucket of spaghetti (packed in a bucket similar to those used for fried chicken).

Drive-thrus are a convenient way to also access services such as banking, library book returns, dairies, and pharmacies. There’s even a few drive-thus you may have memories of that no longer exist  such as Fotomat where you could drop off your camera film and later return to pick-up your printed photographs. You may even know someone who made a lasting memory at a drive-thru such as a couple that said “I do” at the Las Vegas based A Little White Wedding Chapel .

While there are all kinds of drive-thrus, most of us think of fast food when we hear the phrase “drive-thru.” Many of the fast food restaurants you are familiar with have their roots in Southern California. McDonald's, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, and Carl’s Jr are just some of those iconic fast food restaurants that were founded in Southern California. If California is the home of so many fast food restaurants, is it also the home of the first drive-thru?

Well, surprisingly the answer is actually no. But Southern California is the home of the second fast food drive-thru. Early fast food restaurants utilized a drive-up or drive-in model which served customers using walk-up or carhop service. So customers either walked up to the counter, ordered and picked up their food or they stayed in their car where they ordered and received their food via a  carhop. The first drive-thru was Red’s Giant Hamburg located on Route 66 in Springfield, Missouri which offered the service in 1947.

National Drive-Thru Day

However, the second drive-thru still serves customers today. That drive-thru is operated by California based In-N-Out Burger. In-N-Out Burger which opened their drive-thru in 1948 in Baldwin Park (Los Angeles County) where it still continues today. [1] In-N-Out Burger with its distinctive red and yellow sign  has served the same menu of hamburgers, fries, and sodas for over 70 years. According to their company website, it was in 1948 that the founder Harry Snyder worked on his vision of helping customers order meals from their cars. He invented a two-way speaker box that allowed customers and employees to talk to each other, all without leaving their car or the kitchen.[2]

When we talk about fast food there's one restaurant that comes to mind so you may be surprised that McDonald's didn't have one of the earliest drive-thrus. McDonald’s started out serving customers with a walk-up service but they got a late start in the drive-thru business. Their first drive-thru wasn’t opened until 1975 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, By  that time they had locations worldwide, all serving customers without a drive-thru.[3]

There’s no doubt that the food and beverage drive-thrus have changed the way we purchase and consume our meals. Our cars now come equipped with cup holders, some drive-thrus feature screens that display what you’ve ordered so you can confirm that it’s correct, and some have even implemented  time saving features including double lanes and two windows, one to pay and the other to pick-up your food. Drive-thrus have evolved to meet the needs of a world that has found drive-thus, easy, fast, and sometimes a necessity while traveling or on long busy days.

What are your first or most notable memories of going through a drive-thru? Who went with you? This would make a great story to either share in the comments below or write a paragraph you can add to your blog or to your profile in Legacy Family Tree software. Memories are important! Write them down.


[1] “10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Fast Food Drive-Thru,” Money ( accessed 17 June 2019)

[2] “1948 Introduced Speaker System, In-N-Out ( accessed: 17 June 2019).

[3] “10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Fast Food Drive-Thru,” Time ( accessed 17 June 2019)


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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My most memorable drive-thru happened in Grants, NM decades ago. I did business with the uranium mines there (since closed), and usually traveled with a local salesman who represented my company's products. On my first trip out there, on our way back to Albuquerque, I was startled to see cars and pick-up trucks lined up at several drive-thrus that sold beer (and possibly liquor). We didn't stop, but they all were doing a booming business.

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