A Brief History of… Polaroid
In an act of ultimate consumation, the company that was formed to save what was left of Polaroid Corporation’s dying European infrastructure has now been assimilated into the very brand it sought to help…but the story of how this state of affairs came to be is a little more complex than those 34 words might lead you to believe.
You see, whilst Impossible may have rebranded themselves as “Polaroid Originals”, the company is not Polaroid / Polaroid Corporation. In fact, the new OneStep 2 (a fantastic looking and hopefully equally well performing camera), is not made by Polaroid, it’s simply uses the name.
Confused? Don’t be, I’m here to help.
Welcome to “A brief history of… Polaroid”.
This first article in a new series aims to give you the facts behind the companies that made and continue to make the analogue photography industry. To kick things off, we’re going to take a look at the rise, fall and rise of Polaroid since a little before the inception of the Polaroid Corporation in 1937 to the present day.
WARNING: this article is light on images.
The Polaroid timeline
Edwin H. Land invents a plastic sheet-light polarizer.
Land-Wheelwright Laboratories is founded by Edwin H. Land and George Wheelwright (Land’s Harvard Physics instructor).
Polaroid Corporation founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States by Edwin H. Land. Initial focus was research, development and manufacture of polarizer technology and products which employed it.
The concept of an instant photograph is sparked in Edwin Land’s mind, brought on by a question posed by his daughter, Jennifer. The camera is developed in secret for the next three years.
The company works on US Military project during World War II, helping to develop high-quality optics and night-vision assistance devices. Edwin H. Land and his engineers later assist in the design of the U-2 spy plane.
The first public demonstration of instant film (peel apart) is made in New York City. The film produces a sepia-toned image and resolved after only 60 seconds of development.
Load it! See it! Snap it! The Polaroid Land Camera Model 95 is released and sells out in minutes.
The first true black and white version of Polaroid film is released in 1950.
Sep: The one-millionth Polaroid Land camera (a Model 95A) rolls off the Polaroid assembly line. The company celebrates distribution reach into 47 countries.
A long-standing artist collaboration project begins, the most notable being Andy Warhol.
Polacolor instant color film debut. Polaroid Model 100 Land Camera introduced.
Polaroid Swinger camera is released.
Polaroid drop peel apart film in favour of new, “integral” film sheets.
Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera demonstrated with brand new film pack design. 17 layers of components integrated into a 2mm thick sheet.
Polaroid sue Kodak for $1.6bn for patent infringement.
Polaroid OneStep Land camera debuts.
Polavision announced – a color motion-picture system that produced 2½-minute films in self-developing cassettes.
The endeavour was a short lived commercial failure and resulted in large losses for the company.
Polaroid 600 series film and cameras introduced.
Polachrome, PolaPan, Polablue and other “35mm instant” transparency films were released alongside the Polaroid “Autoprocessor”. Polachrome was in production until ~2000.
Polaroid Spectra camera system and film introduced.
Polaroid awarded $909 million from Kodak lawsuit – short of the $5.7 billion Polaroid had cited in lost profit and interest in 1988.
Edwin H. Land dies.
Camera-to-television prototype released.
Polaroid files for bankruptcy protection in October.
Aug: The majority of the Polaroid Corporation’s businesses and assets are sold to OEP Imaging Corporation, which later changes its name to “Polaroid Holding Company” (PHC) and begins operating under “Polaroid Corporation”.
The remnants of the original Polaroid Corporation change name to “Primary PDC, Inc”.
April: The Polaroid Holding Company is acquired by Petters Group Worldwide.
Sep: World Wide Licenses is granted 3-year exclusive rights to manufacture and sell digital cameras and other consumer electronics under the Polaroid brand name
Aug: Polaroid’s remaining manufacturing operations are acquired by Flextronics and almost entirely outsourced to Chinese factories
Dec: Edwin H. Land’s home burns down.
Polaroid cameras officially cease production
Feb: Polaroid announce the end of instant film manufacture.
Oct: The Impossible Project (TIP) purchases European production machinery and facilities from Polaroid Holding Company for $3.1M
Dec: Polaroid Holding Company (PHC), operating as the post-reorganisation Polaroid Corporation files for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid criminal investigation of its parent company.
Various auctions, sales, legal disputes and joint ventures result in the Polaroid Corporation’s name, assets and intellectual property being placed under a parent company called “PLR IP Holdings, LLC”. Ex-EVP and GM for Americas Scott W. Hardy named as President of Polaroid Corporation and PLR IP Holdings, LLC.
Later the same year, a five-year deal to produce Polaroid branded digital (still and video) cameras and accessories is reached.
TIP begins mass production and sales of Impossible film, with Harman Technology providing the film negative component of the new Impossible PX-100 film stock.
Second generation Impossible colour film for Polaroid 600, SX-70 and Spectra Cameras is released.
Polaroid “Classic” range announced in collaboration with Polaroid Corporation.
Marquette Cos. acquire Polaroid majority ownership (65%) for $70M.
TIP I-Type camera and film announced.
May: TIP’s largest shareholder acquires the Polaroid brand and IP
Sep: TIP rebranded as “Polaroid Basics” NewPolaroid OneStep 2 camera and updated I-Type film released.
I don’t have too much by the way of commentary on the most recent events save this:
With the acquisition of Polaroid Corporation’s remaining brand and intellectual property in 2017, the
Impossible Project Polaroid Originals is essentially Polaroid in all but name. Whether you want to use assimilation or another term to describe this, one thing is clear, the organisation responsible for the Polaroid brand is once again in the hands of people who are passionate about the product, its future and most of all, are invested in maintaining Polaroid’s legacy as a creator and innovator of analogue photography products and platforms.
It remains to be seen if another hybrid camera such as the I-1 is released in the future – or if Polaroid Originals versions of Impossible limited edition film will be released but for now, the future of the Polaroid brand name looks to be in very good hands. They’ve been doing this since 2008, after all.
You never know, we may even see a return of pack film, too..something for Polaroid’s 150th anniversary perhaps?
Thanks for reading and please let me know who you’d like to see given the “Brief history” treatment next in the comments below.
Sources and further reading follow.
Sources and further reading:
American Chemical Society – National Historic Chemical Landmarks, Chemists and Chemistry that Transformed Our Lives:
Boston.com, History of Polaroid and Edwin Land:
LA Times – Polaroid / Kodak Selltement:
Martin Kuhn’s Land List:
Official Polaroid History via Polaroid website:
Unofficial Edwin Land biography via the Rowland Institute at Harvard
Wikipedia – Polaroid Corporation:
Wikipedia – Polavision:
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