Edwin Land’s Daughter Wanted a Selfie, So He Invented Polaroid

By | February 11, 2019

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Portrait of American scientist, inventor, and businessman Edwin Land (1909 - 1991), president and co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation as he demonstrates his company's '60-second film,' 1963. (Fritz Goro/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Dr. Edwin Land spent long hours in independent study at the New York Public Library reading about physics, chemistry, and the properties of light, but it was a family trip to New Mexico that gave him the idea to create his best-known invention. On a family trip to Sante Fe in 1943, Land, an avid photographer, snapped a photograph of his young daughter, Jennifer. A girl ahead of her time, Jennifer immediately asked to see the pic of her so she could give it the thumbs up or thumbs down. Land explained to his daughter that they would have to wait until they got home, took the film to a lab for developing, and had prints made before she could see the photo, to which, Jennifer rolled her eyes and said something like, “That’s stupid. Why can’t I see the photos instantly?” Land set out to make an instant camera…the Polaroid. 

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Edwin Land at Harvard. Source: (news.harvard.edu)

Land was an Impatient Scholar

Edwin Land enrolled in Harvard to study chemistry and physics, but he was an impatient scholar. He didn’t want to spend his time in lecture halls; he wanted to be in the lab doing experiments. From the late 1920s and early 1930s, he left and returned to Harvard a few times. Upon one return, he shared his developments of microcrystal polarizers with the head of Harvard’s physics lab. The professor was so impressed with Land’s work that he allowed him to use a separate lab for his research.