Edwin's work stacked upon British chemist William Herapath (1820-1868), who had unsuccessfully tried to make large synthetic crystals that would simulate the natural crystals, which were the best polarizers available for the time.
Edwin saw an alternative.
Using fine polarizing crystals he produced, he suspended them in a liquid lacquer, and using an electromagnet, he aligned them.
Using a sheet of thin, clear plastic, he made a continuous sheet of crystals. And as the lacquer dried, the crystals kept their position.
The result was ground breaking: a pliable, thin, transparent polarizing sheet that was cheap to make.
Edwin patented that method in 1929, and returned to Harvard that same year. But again, he left before completing his studies to focus on this emerging polarizer business.
Later, he came up with an even better way for making the polarizing sheets. It took several years to perfect, but this resulted in the commercial production of polarized sheets.
So then, in 1932 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Edwin teamed up with Harvard buddy George Wheelwright III to form Land-Wheelwright Laboratories, and they manufactured polarizers.
Their ability to make inexpensive polarizers meant it could be used affordably in photographic filters, along with glare-free sunglasses.
Not only that, Edwin's polarizing technology gave way to stereoscopic production. Stereocopy is a way to create or add depth in an image, or to make it 3D. If you love going to see a movie in 3D, you can thank Edwin Land.
Their company also invented a new product called the vectograph. This device combined two still images taken from slightly different positions, and printed as oppositely-polarized images. And when viewers used polarized glasses, they would see a 3D rendering of the image.
Land-Wheelwright became a public company called the Polaroid Corporation in 1937. Although Edwin's dream of anti-glare implementation in vehicles was never taken up by automakers, the business made good money on their polarizing films.
As World War II loomed, Polaroid turned their attentions and manufacturing on helping to win the war. They developed anti-glare goggles for soldiers and pilots, as well as gun sights, viewfinders, cameras and many other optical devices with polarizing lenses.
The vectograph became a powerful tool for the U.S. military. It helped soldiers visualize geographical features of battlegrounds and aerial maps better, because they could be seen in 3D.
Fast-forward to the year 1943, on a family vacation to Santa Fe.
After taking a photograph of his three-year-old daughter Jennifer, she asked her father why she couldn't see the photo right away.
Edwin's brain was immediately transfixed with the concept of instant photography. He said years later, that "within an hour, the camera, the film, and the physical chemistry became so clear."
He immediately set off to make it a reality.
With the company's existing expertise in polarized products, they could begin working on the new project before the war was over.
Edwin H Land was the groundbreaking creator who conceived and perfected instant photography.
The world saw their very first instant photography camera in 1948.
The Polaroid Model 95 was launched for $89.95 apiece out of a department store in Boston, Massachusetts.
image by Eugene Ilchenko
Today that price would have been around $1,000.
They sold out in minutes.
However, the true culmination of Edwin's idea didn't come around until 1972, with the release of the SX-70 Land Camera. The camera was named after its creator, and the design represented the ultimate simplicity he had dreamed of.
All the photographer had to do was press the camera button, and the image developed before their eyes.
Up until this point, Polaroid films hadn't reached truly One-Step capability: either the user had to peel back the negative sheet to reveal the final image, or the image required even further steps, such as coating the image with certain chemicals.
Edwin's vision was one step photography. You press the button, and... that's it.
The undertaking was quite complex.
Edwin said to The Photographic Journal in 1974, that:
"It is an interesting experience to see how all of Absolute One-Step Photography can happen very simply if it happens sequentially, involving both the camera and film in some two hundred to five hundred steps…
While the SX-70 looked relatively simple, it was nothing short of a engineering miracle. And within the 2 millimeter film unit, there was a complicated casserole of ingredients, 17 layers total.
The camera itself was remarkably sleek in design. It could fold up and was easily carried.
The project represented the culmination of Edwin's 1943 dream of actual instant photography.
The world had completely fallen in love with the Polaroid camera. What used to take week at a photo lab could happen before your eyes, seconds after taking the photo.
Even though the cost of the cameras at the time was high, Polaroid had trouble keeping up with demand. The retail markup of the camera wasn't very high, but the film packs retailed 60% higher than the cost to produce.
Therefore, the company's main profit came from the sales of the instant film packs.
So, once the digital cameras began hitting the market, with the cost per picture on digital being $0, Polaroid took a pretty solid hit, as you can imagine.
I was completely fascinated with the story of the Polaroid camera; they took center stage as the first and most iconic instant film camera ever made; Edwin's interests and passions had built upon the actual skills needed to make a dream into a reality; and the concept sprung to life because of a simple question from his daughter.
The Polaroid Corporation rose to fame, its peak revenue being in 1991 at $3 billion.
But then, it came crashing down, declaring bankruptcy in 2001.
Polaroid was bought out.
In 2008 the company announced it would no longer produce instant film packs.
It was the end of a huge era.
At least it would have been.
Thanks to a bunch of former Polaroid employees buying one of the Polaroid film factorys in the Netherlands, the Impossible Project was born.
It blossomed into what is now known today as Polaroid Originals, and they brought back the SX-70 film, as well as the 600 film and the newly introduced i-Type film packs. American teens finally had ammo for their instant cameras!
The chance they took in that undertaking is what makes it possible to take pictures with the original SX-70 Polaroid instant cameras today.
What worked in 1972 can still take incredible photos today.
It was an incredible idea, a complex undertaking, and a timeless accomplishment.
My motto is very personal and may not fit anyone else or any other company. It is: Don't do anything that someone else can do. Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.
So, find the impossible and run straight for it.