Happy Birthday, Dr. Land!

Edwin Herbert Land, the inventor of Polaroid cameras and film, was born 105 years ago today in Bridgeport Connecticut. Until his death, in 1991, he was a dominant figure in American science, invention and business.

Land’s achievements are too numerous to describe in detail here – it’s little known, for example, that he played a key role in America’s U2 spy plane program – but he was second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents he held and was as well-known to the public in his time as the late Steve Jobs, of Apple, is today.

Extraordinarily, Land held no university degree in science. The ‘Dr.’ which preceded his name was an honorific title bestowed by his employees, friends, and the press. Only The Wall Street Journal refused to use it during his lifetime.

On February 21st, 1947, Land demonstrated a camera with an instant film, the Land Camera. Two years later, 57 of first 60 production units were offered for sale in Boston, just before Christmas. They sold out on the first day and signalled the start of a transformation of consumer and industrial photography that would continue until the 1990s and the advent of digital photography.

In 1972, Land unveiled the SX-70 folding SLR camera and an integral instant film which ejected automatically and developed in 60 seconds without chemical residue. Within two years, Polaroid sold 700,000 SX-70s. Among the buyers were artists such as Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and Dash Snow, and photographers such as Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Helmut Newton, Peter Beard and Robert Frank.

At Impossible, the most direct connection to Dr. Edwin Land is through Stephen Herchen, the company’s Chief Operating and Technology Officer, who oversees R&D and production at our plants in Monheim, Germany, and the former Polaroid assembly plant in Enschede, in The Netherlands. Stephen was Polaroid’s Chief Technology Officer and worked directly with Land.

Stephen writes, “My strongest impression of Dr. Land is of his unquenchable optimism (which was contagious and motivating) and persistence when it came to achieving some nearly impossible technical objective.”

More of Stephen’s recollections can be found on Impossible’s blog today.

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