Polaroid's History

In 1926, Polaroid's founder, Edwin H. Land, left Harvard University after his freshman year to conduct research on light polarization. In 1928, he invented the first synthetic sheet polarizer and filed for a patent in 1929. Its possible uses include photographic filters, sunglasses, and glare-reducing windows for planes.

1930s The Early Years


Land forms Land-Wheelwright Laboratories in Boston with Harvard physics instructor, George Wheelwright III, and continues the research and manufacture of synthetic polarizers.


American Optical Company licenses polarizers from Land-Wheelwright for use in the manufacture of sunglasses.


Land-Wheelwright provides sick pay and Christmas bonuses to employees, initiating a pattern which earned Land a reputation as an innovative and forward-thinking employer.


Land forms Polaroid Corporation in 1937 and begins to develop a variety of products from the polarizer technology. Polaroid day glasses are introduced. Polaroid desk lamp is developed. The lamp includes a polarizer which reduces glare. Net sales: $141,935. Employees: 36.


The company produces desk lamps, drafting table lamps, dermatology lamps and introduces variable density windows. In addition, the company builds the first automatic laminating equipment and begins to produce polarizers in volume. Net Sales: $195,037.


Company products include a redesigned desk lamp, Polaroid glasses, ski goggles, flat lens day glasses, curved-lens fit-ons and face forms, stereoscopic motion picture viewers and a new polarizer developed to reduce headlight glare on cars. The company produces aviation, fog-free and dark-adaptor goggles for the Army and Navy. Polaroid receives a $7 million contract to develop heat-seeking missiles equipped with miniature computers. Polaroid moves its offices from Boston to Cambridge. William J. McCune, future chairman and CEO, joins Polaroid to start up a quality control operation.

1940s The War Years


The company focuses its efforts on defense projects and products, including goggles and vectograph 3-D pictures, which will be used for aerial reconnaissance surveys in World War II. The company establishes an employee appeal procedure for grievances. Net sales: $4,119,120. Net earnings: $147,831.


Polarizing and non-polarizing filters are made for use in gunsights, rangefinders, periscopes, binoculars and other military instruments. Land conceives of the one-step photographic process. Net sales: $13,262,329. Net earnings: $473,284. Employees: 1,250.


In 1947, instant photography is introduced. On Feb. 21, Land demonstrates instant film at the Optical Society of America meeting in New York City. The invention astonishes the photographic community and will prove to have a profound and lasting influence on the field.


On Nov. 26, 1948, Polaroid introduces the Model 95 Land Camera and Type 40 sepia-toned instant roll film at Jordan Marsh department store (now Macy's), in Boston. The camera sells for $89.50 and features a three-element 135mm f/11 lens and shutter speeds from 1/8 to 1/60 of a second. Net sales: $2,481,372. Net loss: ($865,255).


Land hires Ansel Adams as a consultant. Sales of the Polaroid Land Camera exceed $5 million in the first full year.

1950s New Products, New Applications


Company hits milestone: one million rolls of instant film manufactured. First black and white instant roll film, Type 41, introduced. Net sales: $6.4 million. Net earnings: $726,000. Employees: 429.


First instant film for radiography, Type 1001 is introduced.


TV advertising begins on the Dave Garroway show -- live. Model 110 Land camera, the Pathfinder, is introduced for professionals. Polaroid 3-D glasses used to view the first 3-D stereoscopic movie, Bwana Devil. First dividends issued on common stock.


Construction begins in Waltham, MA on new film manufacturing plant. TV commercials on TheTonight Show with Steve Allen. New cameras introduced: Speedliner Model 95A, Model 100 and smaller-format Highlander Model 80. Net sales: $23.5 million. Net earnings: $1 million. Employees:1,162.

Land appointed head of the Intelligence Section of President Eisenhower's Technological Capabilities Panel. The most well-known concept from the Intelligence Section's report is the U-2 air reconnaissance system.


Polaroid listed on the New York Stock Exchange. New cameras: Model 80A, Model 95B, Model 150, Model 800 and the Model 110A. Black and white ASA 1000 transparency films are introduced in two sizes.


4x5 instant film and film holders introduced for professional use.


New film speed: Type 47 B&W; roll film, ASA3000. First international subsidiaries -- Germany and Canada. Net sales $89.9 million. Net earnings: $10.7 million. Employees: 2,505.

1960s Growth


Japanese and Italian subsidiaries created. Polaroid's first automatic exposure camera, the Model 900 with electric eye, is introduced.


French subsidiary opens. Type 55 Positive/Negative black and white film is introduced. Also two new electric eye cameras -- the Model J66 and Model J33.

Land becomes a member of President Kennedy's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.


Polaroid U.K. Ltd. formed. Polaroid MP-3 Land camera introduced -- a copystand camera with macro- and microphotography capabilities for use in research labs, hospitals, universities and industry.


Instant color film introduced -- Type 48 and Type 38 Polacolor Land roll film. The Model 100 folding pack film camera - first camera to use transistorized electronics to manage shutter timing for automatic exposure. Also Type 107 black and white and Type 108 color instant pack films introduced.


4-for-1 stock split. The 5 millionth instant camera is produced. Film manufacturing for the Common Market begins in the Netherlands. CU-5 Close-up camera is introduced.


Film production begins in the U.K. More European subsidiaries formed. Ali McGraw appears in the award-winning advertising campaign for the $19.95 Swinger camera. Polaroid sponsors new public television show, The French Chef, with Julia Child. Net sales: $204 million. Net earnings: $29 million. Employees 4,987.


Polaroid forms subsidiary, Inner City, Inc. to give career training to economically disadvantaged residents of Boston/Cambridge.


The Colorpack II camera is the first non-folding, plastic-bodied camera for pack film and the first low-priced camera that uses both color and black and white instant film. Banks begin using the ID-2 Land Identification System in Master Charge and Bank Americard charge accounts. Net sales: $536 million. Net earnings: $71 million. Employees worldwide: 9,157.

1970s The SX-70 Years


New products: Miniportrait Land cameras for passport and other document photography, Big Shot portrait camera, Square Shooter with square-format film, the ID-3 Land Identification system. Employees: 11,654. Patents: 1,238.


The Polaroid SX-70 Land camera is introduced -- the first fully automatic, motorized, folding, single lens reflex camera which ejects self-developing, self-timing instant color prints. Sir Lawrence Olivier appears as spokesman in advertising for the SX-70. A film introducing the camera and film technology is produced by designer Charles Eames, with script by Dr. Philip Morrison, Professor of Physics and MIT and music by Elmer Bernstein. Land and the SX-70 camera are featured on the cover of Life Magazine.


Polacolor 2 Type 108 film is launched along with several new cameras: SX-70 Model 3, Super Shooter, Electric Zip, Model 355, Color Swinger and Miniportrait. Land resigns as President of the company, continues as chairman, CEO and director of research. Long-time employees William J. McCune and I. M. Booth are appointed president/CEO and assistant vice president respectively.


Pronto!, an inexpensive camera using SX-70 film, is introduced. Polaroid files suit against Eastman Kodak for patent infringement.


Mariette Hartley and James Garner star in TV and print ads. The OneStep becomes the best-selling camera in the United States -- instant or conventional -- for more than four years. The 20x24-inch camera is introduced. Polaroid stops shipments of product to South Africa and becomes the first U.S. company to pull out of South Africa completely. Land is awarded his 500th patent.


Polavision is introduced. The new instant color motion picture system makes 2 1/2 minute films in self-developing cassettes. Net sales $1.4 billion. Net earnings: $118 million. Employees: 20,884.


Time-Zero, fastest-developing instant color film, is introduced, replacing SX-70 film.

1980s Transitions - Land Retires


Land steps down as CEO, continues as Chairman and assumes new position of consulting director of basic research in Land photography. McCune is appointed CEO. I.M. Booth is made executive vice president and director, worldwide photographic operations.


Garner-Hartley commercials continue, this time introducing the Sun System, which automatically mixes strobe light and ambient light for best exposure. Type 600 high-speed color film is introduced for the new line of cameras. New products for professional and technical applications: an 8x10 film processor, Type 891 8x10 color film, and Type 612 film, an instant black and white film (ASA 20,000) for high-speed oscilloscope photography and photo instrumentation. Booth becomes chief operating officer. Polaroid initiates a voluntary severance program designed to reduce employment costs and improve productivity -- population decreases by about 11 percent.


Mexican subsidiary formed. Land resigns from board of directors to give full-time to the Rowland Institute for Science, Inc. William J. McCune is elected chairman of the board, and continues as president and CEO. Booth continues as executive vice president and chief operating officer.


New products: 35mm Autoprocess System, which produces rapid-access color or B&W; transparencies; Polaroid Palette, a desktop computer image recorder that produces color 35mm slides or Polaroid instant prints; the CR-10, a direct-screen instant CRT camera that produces B&W; photos directly from CRT displays; Sun 600 LMS and the OneStep 600 cameras for consumer use. Polaroid blank videocassettes are introduced in Europe and will launch in the U.S. in 1984. I.M. (Mac) Booth is elected president, succeeding Bill McCune, who continues as chairman and CEO.


Net sales: $1.3 billion. Net earnings: $26 million. Employees: 13,402.


Spectra camera introduced,a new, larger-format film. FreezeFrame Video Recorder is developed jointly by Polaroid and Toshiba. Federal appeals court upholds a 1985 decision by district court, ruling that Eastman Kodak violated Polaroid patent rights in its manufacture of instant cameras and film.


Polaroid celebrates 50th anniversary. Activities include: Project Bridge to combat a nationwide shortage of math and science teachers; Legacy of Light book and exhibit; "gift of photography" program for community and festival at Boston College football stadium featuring entertainment by Steve Allen, Mariette Hartley and the Pointer Sisters.


Product introductions: Impulse and CoolCam; Bravo! overhead projectors and Slide Maker; Miniportrait 403; ID2000: mercury-free PolaPulse battery for integral films. Polaroid begins manufacturing in Mexico and China. ESOP established; holds about 20% of company stock; funded by employee pay and benefits. First non-officer employee member, Marian J. Stanley appointed to Polaroid board of directors. Shamrock Holdings, Inc. begins attempted hostile takeover.


Shamrock Holdings, Inc. agrees to terminate its tender offer and proxy contest. Product introductions: 35mm OneFilm and High Definition film; ID-4 tabletop system. Joint venture formed in Russia. Net sales: $1.9 million. Net earnings: $145 million. Employees: 11,441.

1990s Transformation


Product introductions: OneStep Flash camera; Digital Palette CI-3000 computer film recorder; ID1000 and ID2000 Plus. Shanghai subsidiary formed.


Billionth pack of instant film produced. Product introductions: Jewelry Pro II camera; 600 Business Edition camera; New Spectra High Definition film; Digital Palette CI-5000 film recorder; Digital Scanner CS-5000; Digital PhotoPrinter CI-700; Helios Model 810 medical imaging system. Worldwide sales reach $2 billion. BillMcCune, chairman, retires. Mac Booth named chairman. Edwin H. Land, Polaroid's founder, dies at 81. Suit with Eastman Kodak settled; Kodak pays Polaroid $925 million.


Captiva camera unveiled at Shareholders' Meeting; introduced at Photokina as Vision. Will be marketed in the U.S. and Japan in 1993. Polaroid awarded Mexico voter ID program. Employees' Committee disbanded after 43 years.


Early retirement and severance programs offered. Employee-Owners Influence Council formed to advise CEO on policy, practice pay and benefits issues.


Product introductions: Helios Laser Imager in 14x17 size format; SprintScan 35, a 35mm digital slide scanner; ID-100; ID-4000. Expansion into developing markets such as Russia. Net sales: $2.3 billion. Net earnings: $117 million. Employees: 12, 104.


Gary T. DiCamillo, the first "outsider" to head the company, joins Polaroid in October 1995, succeeding retiring chairman and CEO Mac Booth. Product introductions: OneStep Autofocus camera; Talking OneStep camera; PhotoPad digital scanner; Macro 5 SLR Close-up instant camera; Polaview 105 LCD projector; Dry Tech Imagesetting film, a digital color separation film; DryJet Color Proofing System.


Polaroid strategy focuses on becoming a new products company. More than 25 new products introduced, e.g., DryJet II Advanced Digital Color Proofing System; 900 series 35mm cameras; PopShots instant single-use film and camera system; Tomy Xiao Pocket Camera (in Japan); PDC 640 digital camera with PhotoMAX software, Studio Polaroid 350. Net sales: $1.8 billion. Net loss: $51 million. Employees: 9,274.


Focus is on core business, having exited or rationalized non-core businesses over the last few years. 9.7 million instant cameras sold, a company record. More than 400,000 digital cameras sold, making Polaroid the number-one digital camera seller in the U.S. mass-merchandising channel. Broad introduction of Polaroid I-Zone Instant Pocket Camera, JoyCam and PopShots in the U.S. Balance sheet strengthens, revenues up 7 percent vs. 1998. Net sales: $1.9 billion. Net earnings: $9 million. Employees: 8,784.


Polaroid Corporation files for federal bankruptcy protection on October 11, 2001, and most of the business was thereafter carried on by the Polaroid Holding Company (PHC), managed by Bank One. Significant criticism surrounded this takeover because the process left executives of the company with large bonuses, while stockholders, as well as current and retired employees, were left with nothing. Polaroid's bankruptcy was widely believed to be the result of the failure of its senior management to see the effect of digital cameras on its film business, a fate that also befell its primary rival, Kodak. Since the bankruptcy Polaroid branded LCD and Plasma televisions and portable DVD players have appeared on the market.


On April 27, 2005, Petters Group Worldwide announced its acquisition of PHC. Petters has in the past bought up failed companies with well-known names for the value of those names. The same year, Flextronics purchased Polaroid's manufacturing operations and the decision was made to send most of the manufacturing to China. In January 2009 Polaroid introduced the digital instant camera PoGo TWO, a variant of Polaroid's innovative portable PoGo photo printer with built-in digicam. The very compact PoGo printers use special Zink paper for ink-free printing.


In March 2009, following bankruptcy proceedings, the Polaroid brandname was sold once more. At the time, no film was being manufactured under the famous name, but various projects are being undertaken by people wishing to revive the Polaroid format, such as the Impossible Project who currently produce SX70, Spectra, 600 and 8x10 film.

On April 2, 2009, Patriarch Partners won an auction for Polaroid Corporation's assets including the company's name, intellectual property, and photography collection. Patriarch's $59.1 million bid beat bids from PHC Acquisitions, Hilco Consumer Capital Corp and Ritchie Capital.

This led to some very contentious fighting and litigation, and Patriarch wound up walking away in early May, 2009, and a joint venture between Gordon Brothers Brands LLC and Hilco Consumer Capital LP picked up the pieces.

On April 16, 2009, Polaroid won US Bankruptcy Court approval to be sold to a joint venture of Hilco Consumer Capital LP of Toronto and Gordon Brothers Brands LLC of Boston. Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers Brands announced the closing of the purchase of Polaroid Corporation on May 7, 2009, placing Polaroid Corporation in joint holding under a parent company named PLR IP Holdings, LLC. Former Executive Vice President and General Manager – Americas, Scott W. Hardy was named as the new President of Polaroid Corporation and PLR IP Holdings, LLC. The majority of employees remained in their positions at the company's Minnetonka, Minnesota headquarters as well as office locations in Boston, New York and Toronto.

On June 19, 2009, the new holding corporation for Polaroid, PLR IP Holdings, LLC announced an exclusive 5-year agreement with Summit Global Group to produce and distribute Polaroid-branded digital still cameras, digital video cameras, digital photo frames and PoGo-branded mobile products. Summit Global Group added several former Polaroid employees to their staff. The company expects the agreement to yield $1.3 billion in retail sales over an unspecified period beginning in 2009.


On January 5, 2010, Polaroid appointed Lady Gaga as "Creative Director" for the company. A press release stated that she would be the "new face" of Polaroid.


In May 2017, the brand and intellectual property of the Polaroid corporation, holding corporation for Polaroid, PLR IP Holdings, LLC, were acquired by the largest shareholder of the Impossible Project, the Polish investor Oskar Smołokowski, which had originally started out in 2008 by producing new instant films for Polaroid cameras.

The last factory producing Polaroid instant picture film cartridges in Enschede, Netherlands, under the trademark “Impossible” (The Impossible Project), which had already been led by Smołokowski as CEO, was rebranded to Polaroid Originals later in September 2017.