On this day in 1948, the Land Camera first went on sale. Developed by the Polaroid Corporation, and named for its co-founder Edwin H. Land, this mechanism was the first of its kind—a camera with instant film.
Polaroid was co-founded in 1937 by scientist and inventor Edwin H. Land and Harvard physics professor George W. Wheelwright III. The company was originally known for its polarizing sunglasses, a product Land had invented following his self-guided research in light polarization. The name “Polaroid” was coined by Professor Clarence Kennedy of Smith College, a mutual friend of Land and Wheelwright.
Land studied chemistry at Harvard but left without a degree and moved to New York City in the late 1920s. Without the backing of an educational institution and laboratory, he invented a system of instant in-camera photography—Polaroid film.
The Land Camera was constructed in a similar way to traditional film cameras: light entered a lens and was reflected onto light-sensitive film, recording a negative image. Where the system differed was in its delivery of the print. Land’s system contained both the negative film and a positive receiving sheet joined by a reservoir. This pack held a small amount of chemical reagents that started and stopped film development. Rather than sending the exposed film off to a laboratory to be developed, consumers could produce a developed photograph in one minute or less.
Polaroid originally manufactured sixty units of the Land Camera to be sold during the 1948 holiday season. Fifty-seven were put up for sale at the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston, all of which were sold on the first day.
Land ran the company successfully until the late 1970s. Land died on March 1, 1991 in Cambridge and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
For more information on Polaroid or Edwin Land in Cambridge, contact the CHC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Invention of Polaroid Instant Photography.” Edwin Land and Polaroid Photography. 2015. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/land-instant-photography.html#invention_of_instant_photography.
American Chemical Society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks program.