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Edwin Land

inventor of the instant camera

Edwin Land

Edwin Herbert Land was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on May 7, 1909. He graduated from the Norwich Free Academy, a semi-private high school, and then studied chemistry at Harvard University for a year before heading to New York City.

Polaroid Film

In 1926, while still at Harvard, Land noted that polarized light was a very useful tool for studying organic materials. The available instrument for such polarisation studies, however, was cumbersome and expensive, so Land decided to develop something better. Taking a leave of absence, he developed a new kind of polarizer by aligning and embedding crystals in a plastic sheet. He called this material "Polaroid."

Polaroid Corporation

After developing Polaroid film, Land decided to return to Harvard, but left again in his senior year to found a laboratory. Joined by other young scientists, he applied the polarizing principle to light filters, optical devices, and motion picture processes. In 1937 the group became the Polaroid Corporation, with Land as president and head of research. During World War II, the corporation invented infrared filters, dark-adaptation goggles, and target finders for the military. It also developed a microscope for viewing living cells in natural color.

Polaroid Land Camera

One day, while on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Land's three-year-old daughter asked to see the pictures the family had taken that day. While trying to explain to her why she would have to wait for the film to be developed before she could see the pictures, Land decided there had to be a way for his little girl to see pictures sooner.

On February 21, 1947, Land demonstrated an instant camera and associated film. Called the Polaroid Land Camera, 57 of them were put up for sale at Boston's Jordan Marsh department store just in time for the 1948 Christmas shopping season. All 57 cameras and all of the film were sold on the first day of demonstrations.

drawing of the first Polaroid Land Camera

Altogether, Edwin Land held 535 patents, second only to Thomas Edison's 1,097. For his contributions to the fields of polarized light, photography, and color perception, Land received numerous awards and honorary degrees, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963) and the National Medal of Technology (1988). In 1977, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He was also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for a time as the world's richest scientist. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 1, 1991.

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This page was last updated on 06/16/2018.