Do know this Jew? He invented instant photography


When we all can shoot movies and take photos anywhere at any time with our smartphones, it’s hard to believe there was once a time when we had to wait to see our photos. Remember photomats? Remember film?

Even as far back as 1948, the idea of instant photos had been hatched, but it would a Jewish inventor named Edwin H. Land (1909–1991) who would be celebrated for perfecting instant photography. Known simply as Polaroid, the system he invented revolutionized traditional photography by compressing darkroom processes into an integrated film unit and producing a final photograph in the seconds following the click of a camera shutter.

Edwin Land

Born on May 7, 1909, in Bridgeport Connecticut. His parents, Helen and Harry Land owned a scrap metal yard. His father was born in Russia where Tsar Alexander III carried on a reign of terror against the Jews from 1881 to 1894. His grandfather Abraham, grandmother Ella, father, and his two brothers left Odessa, Russia, and came to the United States. The custom inspectors had Americanized their names and Land became their last name.

Edwin Land attended the Norwich Free Academy at Norwich, Connecticut, a semi-private school. He graduated in 1927 and went to Harvard. He studied chemistry and after his freshman year, he left to go to New York City.

He invented the first inexpensive filter capable of polarizing light, Polaroid film. In 1932, he and his physics instructor at Harvard, established the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories to commercialize his polarizing technology. Wheelwright’s family was wealthy and agreed to fund the company.

In World War II, Land worked on military projects which included developing dark-adaptation goggles, target finders, first passively guided smart bombs, and a special stereoscopic viewing system called the Vectrograph which revealed camouflaged enemy positions in ariel photography

In 1943, during a vacation in Santa Fe, Land took a photo of his daughter, Jennifer, who was then three years old. The girl asked her father why she couldn’t see the photo right away—at the time, photographs had to be developed professionally, a process that often took several days. Land was immediately taken by the concept of instant photography and set off on a long walk to think through the idea.

On February 21, 1947, he demonstrated an instant camera, named Land Camera, with its film. It was an instant success. The first Polaroid camera called the Model 95, and its associated film went on sale in 1948 at a department store in Boston. The cameras sold out in minutes, and the rest is history.

Over the course of his career, Land earned 535 patents. He died on March 1, 1991, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.