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When Was the First Drive-Through Restaurant Created?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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The first drive-through 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-through 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-through 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.

The creation of a drive-through option for guests allowed Chaney to cut business costs by eliminating carhop service, a mainstay of fast food restaurants during this era. The drive-through 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-through 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-through 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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Discussion Comments
By zaeem — On Mar 18, 2022

I love the drive-through concept. Now I can even order meds from my phone and just go pick up from drive-through. It's a really great innovation.

By anon1004175 — On Dec 04, 2020

I live down the street from seven stars tavern. It indeed was the first drive thru window. I’m pretty sure they served beer through the window. But it’s still there. Right next to the front door there is a very small window. They used to do tours around Halloween time since it’s so haunted.

By anon985021 — On Jan 13, 2015

The drive through was modeled after time studies of how long people spent inside the bank on their lunch hour. Observations showed that people would generally go to the bank during that time, and was even more enticing when the bank drive-through was added. The goal of the fast food drive through was to get customers to come through by beating the service time the bank was mastering. It's rather interesting to see how they rigged the first speaker devices on these also.

By anon354574 — On Nov 09, 2013

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-Through 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...

By indemnifyme — On Sep 03, 2012

@bagley79 - I would have guess McDonald's invented the drive-through 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-through.

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

By Ted41 — On Sep 02, 2012

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

By strawCake — On Sep 02, 2012

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

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 01, 2012

@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 through! It would have been really neat if they restored the restaurant to what it looked like when it first opened the drive through!

Most people love the idea of a drive through, 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 through restaurant!

By Mykol — On Aug 31, 2012

If Red's Giant Hamburg was truly the first drive-through 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-through restaurants have had.

By honeybees — On Aug 31, 2012

There are a couple things a very busy restaurant can do to speed up the line at the drive-through. 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-through. 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-through 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.

By julies — On Aug 31, 2012

If I am eating fast food, very seldom do I go inside the restaurant any more. Sometimes if the line for the drive-through 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-through 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.

By bagley79 — On Aug 30, 2012

My first guess for the first drive-through 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-through had any idea how popular this concept would become. I think the success of the fast food drive-through restaurants has led the way for other companies to do the same thing.

I use a drive-through 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.

By cyprus — On Mar 20, 2010

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.

By anon70802 — On Mar 16, 2010

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

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