Edwin Land, who was a physicist and inventor, started Polaroid Corporation in 1937. The company’s first product was the Polaroid Land camera. It was the first camera in history allowing users to instantly develop and print their own photographs. Years earlier the Kodak Brownie enabled cheap personal photography. Polaroid took it another important step.
Coming Up with a Name
The company name “Polaroid” was coined by its founder, Edwin H. Land, in 1937. According to Land’s autobiography, he came up with the name by combining the words “polarizer” and “celluloid.”
At the time, Land was working on developing a new type of polarizing filter. It would be made from a synthetic material instead of the naturally occurring crystals that were commonly used. He had already developed a successful prototype. However, he needed a catchy name for the new product. He reportedly wrote down the words “polarizer” and “celluloid” on a piece of paper. Then he combined them into the word “Polaroid.”
The name was meant to evoke the concept of polarization. This was central to the company’s early products, and to suggest a modern, high-tech image. The name “Polaroid” proved to be a successful branding choice. It became closely associated with the company’s innovative instant photography products over the years.
The Instant Camera
The idea for the instant camera came to Land in 1943. His three-year-old daughter asked him why she couldn’t see the photograph he had just taken of her. This question led to years of research and development. In 1948, the first Polaroid Land camera was introduced to the market.
The camera used a process called “instant developing,” which allowed the photographer to take a picture and then have it develop within a few minutes, without the need for a darkroom or special equipment. The Polaroid Land camera became an instant hit. Millions used the camera to capture their memories in a new and exciting way.
Old School Elements
Despite being an exciting new technology, the early Polaroid Land cameras, such as the Model 95, retained old school components. The “old school” part of the Polaroid Model 95 camera that accordions out is called the bellows.
The bellows is a flexible, accordion-like structure that is used to extend and retract the distance between the lens and the film plane. This allows the camera to focus at different distances. It also helps to prevent light leaks, as it creates a light-tight seal between the lens and the film. This solution went back nearly a century by the time the Model 95 was introduced.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
This writer remembers using the Model 95 when he was roughly the same age as the young boy did in this video. In today’s world, the process appears tedious. However, seeing the picture you just took within a minute or so was so exciting, it compensated for all of the steps.
The boy’s process in that video was almost exactly the same as I did back in the 1950s. I had new film then, so I didn’t have to use up an entire roll just to get a single picture. The pictures also curled up as seen in the video, but not as much. You had to do a reverse curl against a table or chair in order to get the darned thing to lie flat.
Also, the liquid the boy used to coat the picture was called “Polaroid Developer Paste” or “PDP”. This paste was used to develop the image after it was ejected from the camera. The Polaroid Developer Paste the boy brushed on the print was a viscous, opaque white substance. It was made up of a mixture of chemicals, including potassium hydroxide, sodium sulfite, and hydroquinone. When the paste was spread over the surface of the image, it reacted with the chemicals in the photo emulsion to enhance and preserve the visible image.
Over the years, Polaroid continued to innovate, introducing new models of the Land camera that were smaller, more portable, and easier to use. The company also introduced new types of film, including color film and larger-format film for professional photographers.
Here are some other Polaroid Instant cameras as technology improved:
Polaroid Land Camera Model 150 (1957) – An improved version of the Model 95 with a faster shutter speed and the ability to use flash bulbs.
Polaroid Swinger Model 20 (1965) – A simpler and more affordable version of the instant camera, marketed towards younger audiences. It was also the first camera to use the newly developed Polaroid Type 20 film.
Polaroid SX-70 (1972) – A groundbreaking instant camera that used Polaroid’s new integral film. The SX-70 had a folding design that made it much more compact than previous models, and it had a built-in light meter and automatic exposure control.
Polaroid OneStep (1977) – A simplified version of the SX-70 that was even more affordable and easier to use. It became one of the most popular instant cameras ever made, and it remained in production for over a decade.
Polaroid Spectra (1986) – A larger, more advanced version of the instant camera that used Polaroid’s new Spectra film. It had a built-in flash and autofocus, and it was marketed towards professional photographers.
Polaroid Captiva (1991) – A compact and affordable instant camera that used Polaroid’s new Captiva film. It was marketed towards casual users who wanted a simple and fun way to take photos.
Polaroid 600 (1992) – An updated version of the OneStep that used Polaroid’s new 600 film. It had a built-in flash and autofocus, and it became one of the most popular instant cameras of the 1990s.
Polaroid Land cameras were able to make color pictures starting from the early 1960s. In 1963, Polaroid introduced its first color instant film, called “Polacolor”. This film was initially available only in peel-apart format, which meant that the photographer had to manually separate the print from the negative after it was developed.
In 1972, Polaroid introduced a new type of instant film called “SX-70”, which was capable of producing color prints without the need for manual separation. This film used a new type of chemistry that allowed the print to develop within the camera itself, producing a finished print in just a few minutes. The SX-70 camera was also equipped with an automatic exposure system and a built-in flash, making it easy to use even in low light conditions.
Polaroid continued to develop and improve its color instant film technology over the years, introducing new films such as “Time-Zero”, “600”, and “Spectra”. These films were used in various models of Polaroid instant cameras and allowed for quick and easy production of color prints.
A Digital Demise
However, as digital photography became more popular in the 1990s and 2000s, Polaroid struggled to keep up. In 2001, the company filed for bankruptcy and discontinued production of its instant cameras and film. Many attempts have since been made to capitalize on the famous Polaroid brand name. None have gained much traction.
- Year Started: 1937
- Year Ended: 2001
- Origin Of Name: Combining “Polarize” and “Celluloid”
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Edwin Land
- Owner While In Use: Publicly Traded
- Owner Successor: Many
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Smart Phones
- Naics Code: 333310
- Location Headquarters: Cambridge, Massachusetts USA