Polaroid Cameras: Photos in an Instant

A Polaroid 660 Land camera. (Photo by Jonathan Mauer via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1947, Edwin Land demonstrated the first instant camera.

Here are some things you may not have known about the Polaroid Land Camera.

Edwin Land was born in 1909 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. After one year of studying chemistry at Harvard, he dropped out to move to New York and work on his own. While in New York, he invented an inexpensive way of polarizing light for sunglasses and scientific work. He did this despite not having a laboratory of his own by sneaking into Columbia University late at night and doing his reading in the New York Public Library.

After inventing the polarizing film, which he called Polaroid film, he returned to Harvard. Land, however, wasn’t motivated by earning a degree, he was interested in solving problems. His wife would get him to answer homework answers, write it up, and turn it in so he wouldn’t fail the course.

He left Harvard again to start a new company with his physics instructor George Wheelwright. The company, called the Polaroid Corporation, worked to commercialize Land’s previous invention and find new uses for it. This included jukebox displays, 3D glass and photographic filters.

In 1947, Land demonstrated his instant camera, which he called the Land Camera. The original camera used a process called diffusion transfer to move dyes from a negative image to a positive image using a reagent. The negative would be exposed inside the camera, then aligned with a positive sheet and squeezed through rollers with a chemical between the layers that would develop the image. After a minute, the back of the camera was opened and the positive could be peeled away from the negative.

The first commercial batch of the Land Camera went on sale for Christmas in 1948. 60 cameras were manufactured, 57 of them sold at the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston. All 57 of the cameras sold out on the first day. They cost $89.75 each.

Land was driven in his research. He took few breaks and had to be reminded to eat. He had teams of assistants working with him that would rotate in and out through the day. It was said that he wore the same clothes for 18 straight days while focused on overcoming a problem with one of his inventions.

Eventually, Land and Polaroid improved on the developing process, which had fewer steps and worked faster. The 1 millionth Polaroid camera was sold in 1956. Color film was introduced in 1963. In 1978, Polaroid introduced an instant color motion picture system, just as videotape-based systems were debuting. Polaroid’s entry was not a success.

Land retired as CEO of Polaroid in 1980. He died in 1991 at the age of 82. Over his lifetime, he amassed 535 patents.

In 2001, Polaroid filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company name survives today, but it stopped making instant cameras in 2007 and stopped making film in 2009.

Our question: Who was hired as Polaroid’s first film consultant in 1949?


Today is Armed Forces Day in South Africa and the Birthday of King Harald V in Norway.

It’s unofficially Single Tasking Day, and National Sticky Bun Day.

It’s the birthday of civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who is 77; actor Alan Rickman, who was born in 1946; and writer David Foster Wallace, who was born in 1962.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1972, the top song in the U.S. was “Without You” by Harry Nilsson.

The No. 1 movie was “Cabaret,” while the novel “The Winds of War” by Herman Wouk topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question: What’s the name of the most prolific inventor, in terms of total number of patents?

Submit your answer at triviapeople.com/test and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at triviapeople.com. We’ll have the correct answer on Friday’s episode.



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