Little Bits of History

Candid Camera

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 21, 2014
Edwin Land

Edwin Land

February 21, 1947: Edwin Land demonstrates a new type of camera and film. Land had studied chemistry at Harvard, but left after his first year. He went to New York City and invented inexpensive filters which would polarize light – Polaroid film. Since he was a private citizen, he had no access to a university laboratory so he snuck into Columbia University at night to use their lab. He used the New York City Public Library for his research and was able to look through their stacks for information on polarizing substances. His big idea came when he realized he did not need to grow one large crystal for his film, but could instead use millions of micron-sized polarizing crystals aligned perfectly. Aligning them perfectly was the next step.

After figuring all this out, Land returned to Harvard for further study but never completed his degree. He was a poor student not because he couldn’t do the work, but because after he found the solution, he had no interest in writing up the answers. His physics instructor, George Wheelwright, was so impressed with his student that together they formed the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories in 1932, with the older man providing funding. They began with creating filters for sunglasses and were successful in this project. With that in hand, a series of Wall Street investors were willing to fund greater expansion. A new name was given to the company in 1937, the Polaroid Corporation.

Under the Polaroid trademark, Land continued to work on his film with the major thrust of the work going toward sunglasses and scientific work. The other uses for the polarization process became more important, especially as he worked with the military during World War II. One of his projects included developing dark-adaptation goggles. He also worked on target finders and the first passively guided smart bombs. Another project was developing a system to reveal camouflaged enemy positions in aerial photography called Vectograph.

After the war, he got back to working on the film and on this day, he presented his work to the Optical Society. The first camera of this type was the Polaroid Land Camera Model 95 and was first sold to the public in November 1948. It took about one minute to have a developed picture in hand. The film would be exposed, the process would begin, and as it was completed, the negative sheet would be torn from the film, with the positive image available. Only black and white photos were possible until 1963 when Land introduced Polacolor pack film, able to produce color pictures. Land retired in 1983 and the cameras were still produced, but without his name added. He died in 1991 at the age of 81 and at the time of his death, his personal assistant shredded all his personal papers and notes.

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.

Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.

Marketing is what you do when your product is no good.

It’s not that we need new ideas, but we need to stop having old ideas. – all from Edwin Land

Also on this day: The Washington Monument – In 1885, the Washington Monument was dedicated.
Karl Marx – In 1848, The Communist Manifesto was published.
Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz – In 1931, Miles Laboratories introduced Alka-Seltzer to the world.
Incas – In 1918, the last Carolina Parakeet died.

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2 Responses

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  1. vanbraman said, on February 22, 2014 at 2:52 am

    I am reading a book about the invention of photography, so this comes at a good time :-).


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