February 21, 1947: Edwin Land Presents the Polaroid Land Camera!

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A Brief History

On February 21, 1947, a new era in photography began with the demonstration of the first “instant” photos!

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find inventor Edwin Land showing off his new Polaroid Land Camera to an adoring public.

Able to take a picture and develop it right there in your hand in a minute or so was a great advance over having to send exposed film to a photo lab or laboriously developing the film in your own darkroom.

The privacy of taking photos that could be developed away from the prying eyes of lab techs was another buyers’ incentive, and Polaroids became synonymous with privately-taken racy photos!

The practical use of instant photos was also apparent for the instant production of driver’s licenses and other ID photos, as well as mug shots and booking pictures, souvenir pictures in tourist traps and quick snaps of job applicants, shoplifters, etc.

In 1983, with the retirement of Ed Land, the Polaroid Camera stopped using the “Land” part of its name.  For obvious reasons, many people had erroneously thought that the “Land” part of the name referred to the camera being unsuited for underwater photos, although in a way, this was true!

Polaroid was originally known for making “polarized” sunglasses which had reduced glare.   Another Polaroid invention, the instant movie film, was a huge flop and cost Land his chairmanship at Polaroid.

In 2008, Polaroid stopped making its signature instant cameras and concentrated only on digital cameras.  The day of the instant Polaroid had passed!  In 2003, the hip hop duo Outkast immortalized Ed Land’s invention with the line “Shake it like a Polaroid picture” in their hit song “Hey Ya!” in which they refer to the part of the early Polaroid process where preservative would be rubbed on the fresh photo and shaken to spread it evenly.

The phrase has come to mean (in urban parlance) to dance or move provocatively in an alluring manner.  Jenna Bush, daughter of former President George W. Bush, used the phrase at the Republican National Convention when she said of her parents, “…they’ll even shake it like a Polaroid picture!”

Ed Land died in 1991 at the age of 81, no longer shakin’ like a Polaroid picture!

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have a favorite camera?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please read:

McElheny, Victor K.  Insisting On the Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land.  Basic Books, 1999.

Olshaker, Mark.  The Instant Image: Edwin Land and the Polaroid experience.  Stein and Day, 1978.

Wensberg, Peter C.  Land’s Polaroid: A Company and the Man Who Invented It.  Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Gary600playsmc of the Polaroid Model 95 Land Camera with the development cover open, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.