Facts about Edwin Land
Edwin Land Biography
Edwin Land was a self-taught scientist and an entrepreneur who was granted more than 500 U.S. patents during his career. He is most famous as the man behind the Polaroid Corporation’s instant camera.
Land started college at Harvard, but dropped out in his first year to devote himself to studying light polarization for commericial use. Three years later, in 1929, Land created the first practical light polarizing sheet, with magnetically aligned micro crystals covered in lacquer.
Land returned to Harvard, where physics instructor George W. Wheelwright, III set him up with his own lab. Then they both left the college to start their own business in Boston, a company that in 1937 became Polaroid, with Land as its head.
Land’s innovations were initially put to use by the military during World War II, and early on his polarizing polymer was used for sunglasses and other optics.
In 1947 he came up with a camera that would develop photos in 60 seconds. The Polaroid instant camera didn’t grab the public’s attention until the 1960s, but by the 1970s annual sales reached 10 million. “Polaroid” became synonymous with instant photos.
During his four decades at the helm, Land kept Polaroid at the forefront of technology and fashion, like an early version of Steve Jobs and Apple. Land advocated steady research and pushed his cameras as a tool for fine art, and the company soared until economic downturns in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
After a decade of patent infringement battles with rival Kodak, Polaroid prevailed, but bad market decisions and management after Land’s 1982 retirement sent the company into a tailspin.
Then came digital photography, which all but killed the market. Polaroid declared bankruptcy in 2001, and stopped making film in 2008.