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]

George Eastman House

George Eastman House

This showcase of vintage cameras and photography is plainly designed, but the camera collection and related referen… [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 - 70 Land Camera Alpha 1. Gold Plated Limited Edition.Polaroid 180 - Vintage Instant Film Camera! - 114mm F/4.5, Flash, 9 Film Packs!Polaroid 600se Professional Camera, With 127mm Lens, Flash, Film Tested, Nice!Vintage Polaroid Land Camera 355 Instant Camera - Gg H55(3) Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Slr Land Camera Lot W/ AccessoriesPolaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Land Camera Polaroid One 600 Classic Instant Camera - New In BoxPolaroid 600 Instant"cool Cam" Film Camera With Case And Pack Of 600 FilmOriginal Vintage Polaroid Land Camera Model 110b Polaroid Slr 680 Instant Film Camera - #200Lot Of 10 Polaroid Instant Cameras One Step Rainbow Stripe Impulse Af Spirit 600*tested* Polaroid Sun 600 Lms Instant Film Camera - Vtg Retro Lomo 4x5 Graflok Camera Back For Polaroid 110 A B Conversion & Pinhole Project CameraVintage Polaroid Land Camera Model 110 B Untested Polaroid 195 Land Camera With Tominon Lens. Includes Manual And Cold SleevesPolaroid 110a Kit With Packfilm Conversion - Kit Includes Case And 9 AccessoriesVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Leather CaseVintage/antique Polaroid Land Camera Model 95aVintage Polaroid Pathfinder Land Camera 110a W/ Case And AccessoriesVintage 1974 Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera, Sx70, Alpha, Alpha 1 Polariod- Sx70 Rainbow Land Camera-with Original Case&flash BarVintage Polaroid Instant Camera Sx-70 Land Alpha Lot Of Vintage Polaroid Cameras Including An Alpha 1 Land Camera And ExtrasPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Sonar Onestep (black/chrome) Works!!! *auction*Lot Of Polaroid Cameras And Equipment Including A Land Camera Model 250 Polaroid One Step Rainbow Stripe Sx-70 Instant Film Land Camera W/ Q-light & CaVintage Polaroid 250 Land Camera W/ Case And AccessoriesPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera (tan/chrome) I Works!!! *auction*Vintage Polaroid One Step Land Instant Camera Brown Leather Sx-70 & Tripod Mount Two Vintage Polaroid Land Cameras Sx-70 Polaroid Vintage Camera - 1970 - Sx-70 - Camera - Excellent - Original Box!Polaroid Cool Cam 600~pink & Gray~tested & In Working Condition~needs Film~euc!!Polaroid Sx-70 Cameras Plus Accessories**large Lot**Polaroid Supercolor 635cl Instant CameraVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera, Split-image Focusing.Vintage Polaroid Sx 70 Land Camera With Box And Instructions 1973Vintage Camera Lot Kodak, Polaroid, Bell & Howell, Etc. Estate Find No ReservePolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Accessory Kit - With Boxes And DisplayWorking Polaroid Sun 600 Lms Flash Film Instant Camera-box-instructions-strapVintage Polaroid Camera Close-up Kit & Portrait # 563 & 561 In Boxes W PapersVintage Polaroid Land Camera Model 450Polaroid Vintage One Step Close Up Instant Camera! (600 Series) Works And Looks Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Leather CasePolaroid Sx-70 Camera With CaseVintage Polaroid 450 Instant Land Camera - Zeiss Ikon Viewer - Focused FlashPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera (tan/chrome) With Case - Working! *auction*Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Excel Working Condition In Original BoxRare Vintage Rainbow Polaroid Land Camera! Uses Sx 70 Film And Flash .works FineVintage Brown Leather Polaroid Sx 70 Land Camera W/ Brown Leather Carrying CasePolaroid 600 Cool Cam Pink W/case *vintage Retro 1980's Rare* Works Great*rare* Polaroid Miniportrait Camera Model 253 For Fuji Fp 100c Fp 100c45Polaroid 250 Vintage Foldable Camera *auction*Polaroid 250 Land Camera. Old School Instant Film Camera.Polaroid 110a Excellent+ With Case, Flash, 22 #5 Bulbs, Meter, Manuals, ExtrasOriginal Vintage Polaroid Land Camera Sx70 Model 2 With Case Film Flash BarVintage Polaroid 600 Cool Cam Instant Film Camera Pink & Gray W/ Strap Vintage Polaroid 250 Camera With Flash Near Mint With Original Styrofoam PackageVintage Rainbow Polaroid One Step Land Camera With Strap White Sx-70 Film (#2)Polaroid Instant Land Camera Lot Time Zero Presto Auto 660 Cool Cam 600 Sx-70 Vintage Polaroid Sx 70 Alpha 1 Instant Film Camera W/ Box And Original Papers