Instant-gratification photography, embodied by smartphone-app sensations like Hipstamatic and Instagram, would never have existed without the imagination of Polaroid’s founder Edwin Land. Land’s first major achievement was the development of a synthetic polarizing filter in 1929, which blocked light waves parallel to the filter’s polarization (either horizontal or vertical), thereby dramatically reducing glare. The Polaroid business, established by Land in 1937, initially focused on other optical products like sunglasses, camera filters, window glass, and even headlights.

By 1939, the company created a 3D film-viewing system using two projectors with polarized filters. The new technology publicly debuted with a promotional film for Chrysler at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which was a wild success, garnering more than 150,000 views during its first two months. Soon after, Polaroid joined the war effort and focused production on glare-reducing goggles, gun-sights, and telescopes for the U.S. military.

While on vacation in 1943, a request from Land’s three-year old daughter to look at the photos he had just taken turned his thoughts toward photography. Land directed Polaroid’s team of scientists to begin working on a process for developing a negative and positive image simultaneously. Their finished product relied on chemical-release pouches or pods, which would rupture as the exposed frame passed through the camera’s internal rollers. Reagent chemicals would then be evenly spread across the film’s surface and initiate the development process.

Polaroid’s first instant-developing film camera, the Land Camera Model 95, was launched in 1948. The 95 physically resembled other cameras of the time, with a leather-clad body and a folding black bellows that extended out in front. Its magical film created sepia-toned images that were revealed after a few minutes of developing by peeling a thin negative layer from the positive print. Within two years the company released a black-and-white version of the film, and a more complicated color format was launched in 1963. For each of these early films, the Eastman Kodak Company produced the negative portion, while Polaroid manufactured the positives and assembled the two parts.

With the release of the SX-70 in 1972, Polaroid switched to a new “integral” film style, a huge hit among amateur photographers. This new “Time-Zero” film required no separation of negative from positive and was automatically ejected after exposure, allowing users to watch their prints develop immediately. The slim rectangle of leather and chrome, which resembled an elegant cigarette lighter more than a camera, was as much a fashionable accessory as a photographic tool.

In 1976, the company’s largest competitor, Kodak, introduced its own instant camera series with the EK-4 and EK-6, and was promptly sued for patent infringement by Polaroid. Though the lawsuit dragged on for years, Kodak was eventually forced to discontinue its instant-camera production in 1985.

Land continued to lead the company until an expensive pet project to design an instant 8mm home-movie camera, called Polavision, failed miserably after its release in 1977. Polav...

Although the name Polaroid was synonymous with “instant camera” by the 1990s, growing consumer preference for digital technologies meant a shrinking market for the company’s film cameras. In 2008, Polaroid announced it would no longer make film-based products in order to focus its efforts on digital cameras and printers. By 2010 however, the Impossible Project, an initiative organized by 10 former Polaroid employees, began producing new film for Polaroid’s 600 and SX-70 cameras at a closed Polaroid factory in Enschede, Netherlands. Thanks to them, today's instant-photo enthusiasts can continue to enjoy Polaroid’s classic analog cameras.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Collection D'Appareils Photo

Collection D'Appareils Photo

While we couldn't read everthing - it's mostly in French - the images on this site speak for themselves. Its an ext… [read review or visit site]

Magic Mirror of Life

Magic Mirror of Life

Jack and Beverly Wilgus have put together a great trove of information and images of camera obscura-related photos … [read review or visit site]

Cameras and Co

Cameras and Co

An impressive collection of antique and vintage cameras, this site features high-resolution images of over 120 came… [read review or visit site]

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

David Tristram Ludwig shares high resolution images of his in-depth personal collection of antique cameras, includi… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Polaroid Sx-70Konica Instant Press W/hexanon 110mm F/4 Lens -polaroid, Used, Perfect ConditionPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha 1 Tan / Silver Body Clean UntestedPolaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Tan Leather/chrome Body Camera - Tested & Working! Lqqk!!Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Sonar One Step Camera - Vintage Polaroid Works Great!*extremely Rare!* Polaroid 600 Night Cam Camera / Sx-70 Ems Pepsi Lego 690 NeuvePolaroid Sx70 Camera Eject Tested*extremely Rare!* Polaroid 600 Neuve Instant Film Camera / Sx-70 Ems Pepsi LegoPolaroid 180 Professional Manual Land Camera & One Pack Of 100c - Ships From EuPolaroid Sx-70Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land CameraA Rare Polaroid 120 Rollfilm Instant Camera From 1950s, With Case & Accessories2 Polaroid Black And White Instant Films 665 ExpiredPolaroid Sx-70 Tan Leather Land Camera W/ Case And Accessories Very CleanVint.polaroid One Step Land Camera Sx~70 Rainbow Stripe White W/q~light FlashVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Leather Case (3a)Polaroid One Step 600 Instant CameraPolaroid Sx-70 Tan Leather/chrome Body Camera - Tested & Working! Lqqk!!Polaroid Sx-70 With Leather Case Good Polaroid Sx-70 Land CameraPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha Se For Parts Or RepairPolaroid 690 CameraPolaroid 450 Camera Case Included & Accessories Flashcube Untested Polaroid 600 Se Camera, W/mamiya 127mm F/4.7 Lens, Very Good + ConditionLot Of 4 Polaroid Sx-70 Land Cameras. Alpha Model 2 3 Time Zero Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Aluminum And Faux LeatherLot Of 6 Vintage Polaroid CameraPolaroid Sx-70 With Leather Case, Flashbars, Film And MoreVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Type 108 Colorpak FilmVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera - For Parts Or Repair - No Reserve Polaroid Sun 600 Se 50th Anniversary 1937-1987 Vintage Polaroid Slr 680 Autofocus Land Camera Sx70Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Accessories – Film Tested & Working!Clean Polaroid Sx-70 W/ Leather Case NrVintage Polaroid 450 Land Camera, Works, Flash Port, Bellows, Manual Included.Polaroid Sx-70 Folding Land Camera With Styrofoam Case!Polaroid 600 Instant Film 3 Pack 30 Photos Expired 08/2009 Factory SealedPolaroid Sun 600 Lms Instant Camera - Tested And Working!Vintage Polaroid Instant Land Camera Film Collection 667 669 Assorted Lot Sx-70Vintage Polaroid Camera Collection - 7 Cameras, Onestep, Spectra, Sx-70, Diana FVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Folding Instant Land Camera With Polaroid Hard CaseVintage Polaroid Sx70 Leather & Aluminum Camera & CasePolaroid 450 Land Camera - Excellent Condition Vintage Polaroid Land Camera 250 Automatic Strap Plastic Case And User ManualPepsi Logo Polaroid Spirit 600Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera In Folding Leather CasePolaroid 110a Pathfinder Land Camera Instant FilmVintage Polaroid Corporation Sx-70 Land Film CameraVintage Polaroid Impulse 600 Instant Film Camera Working. Classic Polaroid Sx-70 Camera In Tan Leather W/original Soft Leather PouchVintage Polaroid Spirit 600 Instant Film Land Camera *working*Vintage Polaroid 600 One Step Flash Red Stripe Instant Camera Uk Made * Tested*Polaroid Land Camera Model 95 / Leather Carrying Case / Flash / VintageVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Polaroid One-step Camera With 10 Packages Of FilmVintage Polaroid Land Camera Model 95a And Model 200 Flash Polaroid Polacolor 809 Instant Film 8x10in.18x24cm X5 Negatives Expired OpenedPolaroid Onestep Closeup 600 Film Instant Camera ++++ Nice!Polaroid 803 Coaterless Instant Film Black & White 8x10 18x24cm Polaroid Sx-70 With Leather Case + Flash