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 180 Land Camera, Case, Manual, Meter, Flash, Timer. All Untested 1 Lot1976 Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha 1- W/ Styrofoam Case & BookletVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Instant Land CameraEstate Find Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Accessory Kit In Box With Papers Unused Polaroid Slr 680 Instand Film Land Camera - Uses Polaroid 600 FilmVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Model Black Sonar Onestep Instant Land CameraPolaroid Land Sx 70 Sx70 Instant Film Camera Excellent Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Lot With 2 Leather Cases. VintagePolaroid 180 Land CameraVintage Polaroid Sx70 / Sx-70 Instant Land Camera W/ Brown Leather CasePolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera With Leather Carry CasePolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Alpha 1Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Model 2 Brown Leather/black Body Camera Tested & Working!Polaroid Sx 70 Camera With Case Tripod Mount Close Up Lens Shade And Self TimerPolaroid 110b Pathfinder Land Camera With Case & Flash Please Read | 4713 | Polaroid Land Camera Sx-70 Brown Leather Case. Camera Only Decent ConditionTested Polaroid Slr 680 Autofocus Land Camera Takes 600 Film Impossible ProjectPolaroid Sx70 With Manual/brochure And CasePolaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Tan Leather/chrome Body Camera - Tested & Working! ExtrasVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera And Carrying CasePolaroid Pathfinder 110a - Four Designs Packfilm Conversion - Beautiful - NrPolaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Model 2 Brown Leather/black Body Camera Tested & Working!Polaroid Land Camera 110 A In Absolutely Beautiful Condition Must SeeVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Land Camera With Leather CasePolaroid Sonar One Step Sx-70 Land Camera W/ Manual - Film & Flash Tested!Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Camera W/ Case Works!Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Model 2 Brown Leather/black Body Camera Tested & Working!Vintage Polaroid 600 Business Edition 2 Instant Land CameraVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Land Camera W/ Nos Fim Pack + Flash Bar Ii (jd)Vintage '73 Polaroid Sx 70 Land Camera W/case Instructions Booklets InstantVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Instant Land Camera Contains Film & Flashes Case, ManualPolaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Model 2 Brown Leather/black Body Camera Tested & Working!Vintage Polaroid One Step Land Camera Sx-70 - Rainbow Vintage Polaroid Slr 680 Land Camera With Original Operating Manual-works!Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera - Tested WorkingPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera W/ Case Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha 1 Model 2 Brown Leather/black Body Camera Tested & Working!Vintage Polaroid Sonar Onestep Sx-70 Land Camera With BoxVintage Polaroid 600/640 Rainbow Land Camera Vintage Polaroid 600/slr680 Land Camera Auto Focus/auto StrobePolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Model 2w/original Box & Manual + 2 Packs Polaroid 600Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Instant Land Camera W/ Leather Case ManualEstate Find Polaroid Sx-70 Land CameraPolaroid One Step 600 Film Instant Camera In Box With Manual Free ShipPolaroid I-zone Film - 3 PacksVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Sonar Onestep Land Camera W Polatronic Flash & 2352 StandVintage Polaroid Onestep 600 Instant Camera Rainbow StripeVintage Polaroid 600 Land Instant Camera - Sun 650 Se - Autofocus - With StrapPolaroid 450 Land Camera With Accessories .( All .untested)..One Of A Kind ! Polaroid Manufactured Prototype Vintage Land Camera ! W/film !Vintage Polaroid Sx-70 Folding Land Instant CameraPolaroid Sonar One Step Sx-70 Land Camera W/ Case & Manual VrwVintage Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Model 1 With Leather Case ReflexPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Large Lot Polaroid I-zone Camera & Film PacksPolaroid Sx-70 Land Camera Model 2 White W/ Brown Leather Untested Polaroid Sx-70 Land Camera SonarPolaroid - 3 Fantastic Camera's - Colorpack '82 - Land Camera - Ee33 - VintageLqqk Vintage Model 95b Polaroid Land Camera Polaroid Sx-70 Alpha Brown Leather/black Body Camera Tested & Working!