What Was The First Drive-In Restaurant Established In The U.S.?

Sonic, Checkers and Rally's, A&W Restaurants, and Dog n Suds are just a few of the many drive-in restaurants in the U.S. Just as the name implies, a drive-in restaurant is an establishment that allows you to park your vehicle in a designated spot before placing your food order and never leaving the car. 

Drive-in restaurants have been around in the U.S. for just over 100 years, according to History. After the first one popped up, it didn't take long for other restaurants throughout the country to offer the same service. Drive-in restaurants maintained their popularity for over a decade until drive-thru restaurants took the spotlight in the 1930s, per History. 

Carhops had to walk (or roller skate) more quickly over time to accommodate customers who wanted their food faster at drive-in restaurants. This eventually led to the use of intercom systems and drive-thru windows, which eventually replaced the drive-in feature of many restaurants, per History. 

Despite the rise of drive-thru restaurants, there are still plenty of drive-in restaurants around in the U.S. today. But which one was the first? 

The first drive-in restaurant sold pork sandwiches

Drive-in restaurants first became popularized by the Texas chain Pig Stand in 1921, according to History. An entrepreneur named Jessie G. Kirby built the restaurant as a roadside barbecue restaurant along the Dallas-Fort Worth highway, which allowed customers to order and eat their food from their cars, per History. The food was delivered by carhops in white shirts and back bow ties. 

Pig Stand primarily served barbecued-pork sandwiches, which were called "pig sandwiches," and side items, according to Texas Monthly. The restaurant also claims to have been the first eatery to sell fried onion rings, chicken-fried steak sandwiches, and Texas toast. As the Pig Stand rose in popularity, more locations were added in Texas.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Pig Stand created quite the buzz with its drive-in concept, and soon many other restaurants in the U.S. started offering the same kind of service. At that time, vehicles were just starting to become stylish and luxurious, according to Supercars.net, making drive-in establishments an element of convenience.

Drive-thrus killed the drive-in star

According to Money, a restaurant called Red's Giant Hamburg opened as the country's first drive-thru in Springfield, Missouri, in 1947. In-N-Out Burger followed in Red's footsteps when it opened the first drive-thru in California in 1948. Three years later, Jack in the Box became the first drive-thru-focused chain to open, per Money. Over time, the number of drive-thru restaurants multiplied.

So what became of the Pig Stand, the restaurant that revolutionized how America orders fast food? Dozens more locations popped up throughout the country after the first location in 1921, but they couldn't compete with the other drive-in restaurants, says History. This prompted restaurant closures, first outside of Texas, and eventually within Texas.

In 2006, the final two Texas locations closed after the owners went bankrupt, according to Texas Monthly. However, in 2007, the San Antonio location reopened. My San Antonio reports that it's now the last remaining outpost of the chain. In 2021, the San Antonio-Pig Stand celebrated its 100th anniversary, still with drive-in service available.