History of the first Polaroid color photography

History of the first Polaroid color photography

Edwin Herbert Land (1909-1991), ForMemRS, FRPS, Hon.MRI was an American scientist and inventor, best known as the co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation.

The Polaroid Land camera is an was produced between 1947 and 1983 and is a self-developing type camera. Polaroid Land Camera Model 95 was the first to be commercially available. It produced prints in about 1 minute. It was first available to the public in 1948.

Land’s new approach was to get the dyes in the film to move from the negative to the positive by way of a reagent by employing diffusion transfer to. A negative sheet inside the camera itself was exposed, then it was lined up with a positive sheet and squeezed through rollers which spread a reagent in between the two layers, creating what could be called a developing film sandwich of sorts. The negative developed quickly and after a minute, the back of the camera could be opened so the negative could be peeled away. What was left was the actual print (picture).

In 1963, the Polacolor pack film was introduced by Land, and this made it possible to take instant color pictures. The process involved was pulling two tabs from the camera, the second of which pulled the “film sandwich” through the rollers to create the picture. Since the camera was now dealing in color, the process was much more difficult, including a film negative which contains 3 layers of emulsion that are sensitive to blue, green, and red. 

Dye developing molecules lived under each layer in their complementary colours of yellow, magenta, and cyan. When an emulsion layer is struck by light, the complementary dye below it is blocked. For instance, when the blue sensitive emulsion layer is struck by blue, the yellow dye is blocked, but allows the magenta and cyan dyes to transfer to the positive, which then combine with each other to create blue. When green and red (yellow) strikes their respective layers, it blocks the complementary dyes of magenta and cyan below them, and only the yellow dye is allowed to strike the positive.

In 1972, Land introduced integral film, which didn’t require the photographer to peel apart the positive/negative to reveal the photograph. This process was like Polacolor film with a bit more timing and layers involved. The film itself integrates all the necessary layers and functionality into the film pack itself. The SX-70 camera was the first camera to use this type of film.

Polaroid camera
Polaroid camera

A brief timeline of Polaroid Photography

1926    Edwin H. Land leaves Harvard after his freshman year to pursue his own work on light polarization. Two years later, he creates the first synthetic sheet Polaris.
1932-1933 Edwin H. Land establishes Land-Wheelwright Laboratories in Boston with Harvard physics professor, George Wheelwright, III, and continues research and production of synthetic polarizers.
1935 American Optical Company signs a license agreement to use polarizers from Land-Wheelwright for the production
of sunglasses. The public announcement of the invention of polarizing disks is made at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
1937 The Polaroid Corporation is formed.
1938 Polaroid announces the Vectograph, a 3-D system using polarized spectacles. It is shown at the New York World’s Fair the next year and later used by the military.
1939 Polaroid products include glasses, ski goggles, stereoscopic motion picture viewers, a redesigned desk lamp, fog-free and dark-adapter goggles for the Army and Navy, and the company receives a contract to develop heat seeking missiles equipped with miniature computers. The company offices move from Boston to 730 Main Street in Cambridge.
1941-1944 Polaroid concentrates its efforts on products for the war.
1944 Land conceives of the one-step photographic system while on vacation in New Mexico with his family.
1947 On February 21, Land demonstrates the one-step process of producing finished photographs within one minute at the Optical Society of America meeting.
1948 The first Land camera, the Model 95, is sold in Boston at Jordan Marsh department store on November 26 for $89.75. This model is the prototype for all Polaroid Land cameras produced for the next 15 years.
1949 Photographic sales of the Land Model 95 camera exceed $5 million in the first year. Land hires Ansel Adams as a film consultant, initiating a long tradition of working with and supporting photographic artists. Several young photographers including Paul Caponigro, William Clift, Nick Dean, and John Benson will join the company in the 1950s and 1960s. PHOTOGRAPHIC RESOURCE CENTER at Boston university 832 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215 t 617-975-0600 f 617-975-0606 prcboston.org
1950-1954 Polaroid sales exceed $23 million and over 4,000 dealers in the US alone sell Polaroid cameras, films, and accessories. Polaroid leases additional office space in Cambridge and also opens a new manufacturing plant in Waltham.
1956-1958 The company spends most of its advertising budget on network television programs, while the one-millionth camera rolls off the assembly line. Polaroid products are now distributed in over 45 countries worldwide. The Waltham manufacturing site is expanded with the construction of an additional building.
1961 Polaroid Positive/Negative 4×5″ film Type 55 is introduced, the first black and white film that produces both a positive and a negative.
1963 Polaroid introduces Polacolor, as instant color film is invented. The Model 100 Land camera, the first fully automatic pack film camera to include automatic exposure control, and Type 48 and Type 38 Polacolor Land roll films are introduced.
1965 The inexpensive Swinger camera is released, a $20 camera that takes wallet-sized black and white photographs.
1967 The company leases 784 Memorial Drive in Cambridge for engineering and research, as an expansion program is announced with new facilities planned in New Bedford, Norwood, and Waltham.
1968 The Polaroid Collection is officially founded, as ongoing acquisitions of selected prints taken with Polaroid products is initiated with a group of Polaroid employees acting as the selection committee.
1971 The Polaroid Foundation is established as a charitable organization.
1972 Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera, the first automatic, motorized, folding, single-lens reflex camera which makes self-developing instant color prints, is introduced. Lawrence Olivier acts as an advertising spokesman for the camera, and Life Magazine features the camera and Land on its cover.
1973 The Clarence Kennedy Gallery is established in Cambridge to serve as a show case for the work of emerging and established photographers using Polaroid materials.
1976 The 20 x 24-inch and 40 x 80-inch instant cameras are developed to produce high quality art reproductions for museums. The cameras incorporate already existing Polaroid films including Polacolor ER film, Polapan black and white film, and Polacolor PRO film.
1977 Land is awarded his 500th patent. The OneStep Land camera is introduced and advertised in a series of successful television and print ads featuring Mariette Hartley and James Garner. This inexpensive fixed-focus camera becomes the best-selling camera in the US, instant or conventional. PHOTOGRAPHIC RESOURCE CENTER at Boston university 832 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215 t 617-975-0600 f 617-975-0606 prcboston.org
1978 Polavision, an instant color motion picture system, is introduced.
1979 Time Zero, a faster-developing film, replaces SX-70 film.
1980 Land retires as CEO, and becomes Consulting Director of Basic Research in Land Photography.
1981 Polaroid Sun 600 System cameras and Type 600 color film are released.
1983 Polaroid flourishes with 13,402 employees, $1.3 billion in sales, and more than 1,000 patents.
1986 Federal appeals Court upholds its decision that Eastman Kodak violated Polaroid patent rights in the manufacture of its instant cameras and film. The Spectra System camera is introduced at Jordan Marsh in Boston, 38 years after the first instant Land camera was announced.
1987 Polaroid Corporation celebrates its 50th Anniversary.
1991 Edwin Land dies at the age of 82.
1992 Captiva camera and film system, an ultra-compact format designed for instant portraits is introduced.
1998-1999 Digital camera sales make Polaroid the number one digital camera seller in the United States. Introduction of the I-zone, JoyCam, and PopShots cameras and films is successful.
2001 Polaroid Corporation files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring on October 12.
2002 On July 31, Polaroid Corporation is purchased by One Equity Partners, creating a new company that now operates under the Polaroid Corporation name, thereby launching a new era for Polaroid. Adapted from Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography
(New York: Abrams, 1999), and Polaroid Access, Fifty Years (Access Press, 1989).