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A 1953 postcard of Ray’s, a drive-in on US Highway 40 near Reno, Nevada.

The popularity of drive-ins and motels in the 1950s underscores the importance of the automobile in these years. As both a mode of transportation and a status symbol, cars—new, shiny, and fast—came to reflect a national identity, rooted in the vast expanses of the American landscape and the freedom of the open road.