Instant Photographic Images

Edwin Land was born in 1909 to Russian American parents. As a child, he had an upbringing typical of inventors. He would constantly take apart appliances to see how they worked. After attending a semi-private high school, he studied physics at Harvard but only lasted a year.

Edwin moved to New York City where he started his invention career. While he lacked tools, he snuck into a lab at Columbia University to develop his ideas. With a special interest, he invented filters to polarize light. He called the invention Polaroid film.

Edwin returned to Harvard after his patent was awarded, but never finished his degree. He and a physics professor founded a business to commercialize his business. The initial applications were polarizing filters for sunglasses and photography. They quickly added other applications.

When World War II began, Edwin began to work on military applications. These included night goggles, target finders, smart bombs, and a way for identifying camouflaged positions.

Once the war was over, his daughter gave him the idea for instant photography. It took three years to turn the ideas into a reality. The instant camera was an immediate success.

During the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR, Edwin continued to work on military applications. One of those efforts was the optics for the U-2 spy plane.

While Land was CEO of the Polaroid Corp., he had a personal goal of conducting an experiment every day. He was not a Wall Street favorite because he made decisions based on what he thought was right as a scientist and as a humanist. He was also active in hiring women scientists and was a strong supporter of affirmative action. He was on President Nixon’s enemy list after resigning as a Presidential Advisor.

When Edwin died at the age of 81, he ordered that all of his personal papers be destroyed. He did not want publicity even in death. He had 535 patents at his death, the third most in U.S. history.

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“Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”– Edwin Land

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