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 Pronto! Sx-70 Film Instant Land Camera Black Manual Case No Reserve!Vintage, Collectible Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Accessories Bundle RareVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha 1 With Leather Case As IsPolaroid Sx 70 Land Camera Sonar OnestepPolaroid Slr 680 CameraEx. Cond. Polaroid Sx-70 Original Leather Case Instructions AccessoriesVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Land Instant Camera With Sonar FocusingExcellent Vintage Polaroid Sonar Autofocus Sun 660 Instant Autofocus Land CameraPolaroid Camera Slr 680Vintage Polaroid Automatic 210 Land Camera With All Original Manuals And ExtrasVintage Polaroid Land Camera Model 95 TestedVintage Polaroid Land Camera One Step Instant CameraNos Rare Vtg Polaroid Onestep Land Instant Camera Rainbow Stripe Original Box Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Instant Vintage Tested Working LeatherVintage Polaroid Instant Camera Sx-70 We Land Camera Sonar One Step - WorksPolaroid Onestep Instant Land CameraVintage Polaroid Instant Camera Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha We - WorksVintage 1974 Folding Polaroid Sx-70 Instant Land Camera Leather Case ManualVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Sonar Onestep Instant Land Camera Silver & Black W StrapVtg Polaroid Sx-70 Sonar Onestep Folding Camera Land Black Polaroid Sx-70 Land CameraVtg Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera! Model 3 W/cross Body Strap Case PlusVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With CasePolaroid Sx 70 White & Brown Land Camera For PartsVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Case.Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera W/ Original Leather Case. Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera, Alpha 1 Model 2, Vg Working ConditionPolaroid Sx-70 Camera With Leather Case - Tested & WorksVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Leather Case, Instructions & Flash CubesPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera, Plus Film And FlashPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With CasePolaroid Sx 70 Land Camera Brown Not Tested As IsVintage Polaroid 600 One Step Flash Close Up Instant Film Camera With Strap Polaroid Sx-70 Land CameraPolariod Sx-70 Accessories In Box Great Lot Vivitar FlashVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha 1 Se W/caseVintage 1950s Polaroid Model 110a Land Camera Awesome With Carrying Case +moreTan And Chrome Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Leather Case Free ShippingPolaroid Sx – 70 Land Camera Model 2 White & Dark Brown LeatherVintage Polaroid Sx70 Sx-70 Instant Camera & Tripod MountVintage Polaroid Sonar Onestep Sx-70 Land Camera With BoxPolaroid Polatronic #2350 Sx-70 & Sonar Flash W/box & Instructions WorkingVintage Polaroid One Step Close Up 600 Instant Film Camera Tested Works GreatPolaroid Sx-70 Model 2 Sonar Onestep Time-zero Autofocus Vintage Land CameraVintage Rainbow Polaroid Sx-70 One-step Autofocus Land CameraVintage Polaroid Sonar Onestep Pronto Land Sx-70 Instant Camera Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1Polaroid Land Camer Prontor Svs 110a With CasePolaroid Land Camera 250 With Flash + BonusPolaroid Sx-70 Model 2; White W/ Brown Leather. Tested With Film PackVintage Polaroid Instant Land Camera Sun 600 Lms WorksPolaroid Spirit 600 Cl Instant Photo CameraMinolta Instant Pro (polaroid Spectra Image Pro) Camera With Film And StrapPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha 1 Model 2Not Working Vintage Antique Camera Collection Mamiyaflex Poloroid KodakCollectible Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Original Leather CasePolaroid Sx 70 Land CameraVintage Polaroid Portable Leather Sx-70 Land Camera & CasePolaroid Brand. Sx-70-model 2. Land Camera..1970's? Usa Made. Not Tested. Black Polariod Sonar One Step Sx-70 Camera