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Edwin Land and the Instant Camera

February 21, 2018

Edwin Herbert Land, a Harvard drop-out, demonstrated the first instant camera (soon to become the Polaroid Land Camera) on this date in 1947. Land had already founded the Polaroid company in 1937 after inventing an inexpensive polarizing filter used in film, sunglasses, optical microscopes, and other gadgets. He later served as a scientific adviser under the Eisenhower administration and played a significant role in the development of the U-2 spy plane. Land’s parents were scrap metal dealers. The family name was the result of an Ellis Island mix-up — Land’s grandparents, who were named Solomonovich and were originally from Russia, were told that they had just “landed” and reported this as their surname to the immigration officer. Land was an obsessive inventor who held 535 patents and once wore the same clothes for eighteen straight days while working on a technical problem. Harvard eventually honored him with an honorary doctorate and Cambridge named a street for him. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Land instituted a dynamic affirmative action program at Polaroid. He died in 1991 at age 81. Scroll down to watch a short video on Land and Polaroid, including newsreel footage from 1948.

“A premature attempt to explain something that thrills you will destroy your perceptivity rather than increase it, because your tendency will be to explain away rather than seek out.” —Edwin Land