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Fascinating facts about the invention of
Instant Photography by Edwin Herbert Land in 1947.
Erasmus Bartholin (1625-1698) was sent, in 1669, a transparent crystal from Iceland (Iceland spar) and, by rotating the crystal, he discovered that objects seen through it appeared double. He correctly deduced that light traveling through the crystal was refracted at two different angles. Today, these are still called the ordinary and extraordinary rays. The explanation required the genius of Thomas Young (1773-1829) to account for them some 150 years later: the two rays were polarized at right angles to each other. William Nicol (1768-1851) had the ingenious idea of cementing two crystals of Iceland spar together with Canada balsam so that each ray was separated at right angles. The resulting Nicol prism could then be used to measure the angle of polarization of compounds, which later resulted in a profound understanding of many aspects of chemistry.

Today, Nicol prisms are still very expensive, bulky and of limited aperture. Edwin Land, when a Harvard freshman, conceived the idea that a polarizer might be made by lining up a myriad of tiny crystals (iodoquinine sulphate) in the same direction and embedding them in transparent plastic which, when set, prevented the crystals from drifting apart. The new polarizer was patented in 1929.
The conventional photographic process involves exposing light sensitive material, which in turn must be developed, fixed, printed and the print developed and fixed, a procedure which can take hours, (or days if the processing facility is far from the place where the photo was taken.)

 In 1947, a remarkable new system of developing and taking pictures was introduced by American physicist Edwin Herbert Land (1909-1991).

Land had left Harvard after his freshman year to conduct his own research on the polarization of light. Two years later, he invented a sheet polarization filter which could be used on camera lenses to eliminate reflection and glare. In 1937, Land founded the Polaroid Corporation to manufacture and market his filters, lamps, window shades and sunglasses.

In February 1947, he introduced Polaroid (po’lar-oid) instant film for use in his own Polaroid Land Camera. The Land camera (patent #2,543,181) was first offered for sale on November 26th, 1948.  Polaroid film processes chemicals in a flat, hermetically sealed compartment attached to the photosensitive paper. A pair of pressure rollers spreads the chemicals uniformly across the paper when exposed, and the completed print is ready a minute later. In 1963, Land introduced Polacolor, a full color film, which could be processed in less than a minute.

In 1972, the "SX-70" replaced the wet, peel-apart development process with dry films that developed in light. (Land even created an instant color movie-making system, "Polavision," in 1978; but this never enjoyed the commercial success of his still-photography cameras.)


Edwin Herbert Land Biography   from The Great Idea Finder
Communication History   from The Great Idea Finder  

100 Inventions That Shaped World History
by Bill Yenne, Morton, Dr. Grosser (Editor) / Paperback - 112 pages (1983)
/ Bluewood Books 
This book contains inventions from all around the world from microchips to fire. This is a really good book if you are going to do research on inventions.

Eureka!: An Illustrated History of Inventions From the Wheel to the Computer
by Edward De Bono / Hardcover - 248 pages (1974) / Thames & Hudson

A marvelous array of history's and prehistory's most important and intriquing inventions.
Insisting On the Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land
by Victor K. McElheny / Paperback: 510 pages / Perseus Pr (October 1, 1999)
Follow Land's career from before the founding of Polaroid in 1937 through the release of the landmark SX-70 camera in the early '70s. Land invented instant photography and turned his company into a tremendous success and a Wall Street darling in the '60s and '70s.

Polaroid Manipulations
by Kathleen Thormod Carr / Paperback: 192 pages  /  Amphoto (July 2002)
With the growing interest in alternative photographic processes, especially Polaroid techniques such as image and emulsion transfer, Polaroid Manipulations is one of the only complete guides available to help readers master this area of photographic art.

Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography
by Barbara Hitchcock (Intro.), Deborah Klochko / Hardcover-120 pages / Harry N Abrams (1999)
This book brings together 82 superb works from the Polaroid collection that present an overview of the past 50 years of photography.

Captured Light: The Invention of Still Photography
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / Less than $25.00 / Also VHS
The development of the still camera was one of the most significant advances of the age of invention. The captured image has transformed the way we see our world, preserving moments forever with the push of a button.

Inventor of the Week
Octorber 1996 Edwin Herbert Land (1909-1991)  Instant Photography
Polaroid Land at Harvard
While not an official biography, the following is reprinted at
the Rowland Institute at Harvard with the kind permission of the Royal Society. Article by F.W. Campbell.

Polaroid Corporation
The official site of the company built on instant photograpy and Land's genuis.

National Inventors Hall of Fame
Edwin Herbert Land was inducted in 1977 for Photographic Product Comprising a Rupturable Container Carrying a Photographic Processing Liquid Photography (Patent Number 2,543,181).


Polaroid film processes chemicals in a flat, hermetically sealed compartment attached to the photosensitive paper. A pair of pressure rollers spreads the chemicals uniformly across the paper when exposed, and the completed print is ready a minute later.


  • Edwin Land (with over 500 to his credit) stands fifth in the number of U.S. patents granted..
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised January, 2005.

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