The first drive-thru banking window was introduced 75 years ago … or was it?

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We considered a drive-thru approach to this story until we learned that there’s plenty of disagreement about who was first to offer it. So, we stopped the car—so to speak—and took a longer look into the history of the invention that allows a consumer to remain inside their vehicle while banking, shopping, or getting something to eat.

According to multiple sources, including 365daysofmotoring.com and NCR Corporation, the first drive-thru banking service in America was provided by the Exchange National Bank of Chicago on November 12, 1946—75 years ago. Others, however, including Quickserv.com, say the first drive-thru banking service was actually provided by Hillcrest State Bank in Dallas back in the 1920s.

As if that discrepancy doesn’t confuse things enough, the first drive-thru window wasn’t even at a bank. Quikserv recently published a story celebrating the 100th anniversary of the “first” drive-thru service at Kirby’s Pig Stand in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Since Kirby’s had no dining room, the original plan was for carhops to deliver meals to customers in their cars—“A delightful meal, served at your wheel.” The problem was, the parking lot was too small to meet the demand, so founder Jesse Kirby came up with the idea of the drive-thru window in 1921. Or so the story goes.

The same historical account included this sentence: “In 1920, A&W opened (its) first drive-in location in Sacramento, California.” Wait, doesn’t 1920 come before 1921?

Dairy Market Express Drive-Thru
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Regardless of who started the trend, the idea to use a drive-thru window for restaurants and banking soon expanded to include drive-thru grocery stores, drive-thru liquor stores, drive-thru dry cleaners, and many more drop-off/pick-up services. That went hand in hand with the rise of drive-in movie theaters, which (ironically) offer food and drinks … but only if you exit your vehicle and place your order at a snack bar.

Getting back to the Exchange National Bank of Chicago—which either was or wasn’t the first financial institution to offer drive-thru banking service 75 years ago—the bank’s drive-thru tellers’ window was protected by heavy bulletproof glass, and transactions were made through a sliding drawer. Financial institutions around the world used the same basic methodology.

Although the drive-thru idea is still very much in use today, the technology used for those financial transactions is much different. Rarely are tellers and customers face-to-face anymore; most drive-thru banking systems use video cameras and touchscreens. And if that’s too much human interaction for you, there are plenty of ATMs around.

Wonder who invented those?

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