In 1926, Land was accepted into ‘Harvard University’, where he studied chemistry. After two months, he dropped out of school, eager to pursue a business idea concerning polarized light.
He began studying optics in the ‘New York Public Library’ and conducting his own experiments in a basement laboratory in ‘Columbia University’.
In 1929, he returned to Harvard after convincing the head of the physics department to give him his own lab. Edwin’s mission was to perfect a sheet polarizer for industrial production processes.
In 1932, he found a business partner in George Wheelright, who had been Land's physics instructor at Harvard. After the company began developing polarizing filters for sunglasses, Wall Street investors agreed to help finance the company.
In 1937, the corporation, originally named ‘Land-Wheeliwright Laboratories’, changed its name to the ‘Polaroid Corporation’. Herbert continued to develop sheet polarizers for the company.
By 1942, Polaroid had created color animation for jukeboxes, 3-D glasses for movies, and the ability to dim light coming through a window.
During World War II, Land worked with the American military to develop and improve optics connected to reconnaissance, and helped worked on both the U-2 spy plane and later space satellites. His techniques helped the government take long-distance photographs.
In 1948, after five years of research and testing, this renowned scientist’s newly-invented "instant" photography set for Polaroid went on sale, available in sepia tones only. It was called the 'Land Camera' after its inventor.
In 1950, Polaroid released the first "instant" camera that used black and white film. It became popular both for military as well as for civilian photography purposes.
Continue Reading Below
In 1957, ‘Harvard University’ awarded Edwin an honorary doctorate, the same individual who had dropped out of the school over 25 years earlier. In the same year, he was appointed as a member of the President's ‘Science Advisory Committee’, a job he would hold for three years.
In 1961, he was appointed as a member of the President's ‘Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board’, a position he would hold for the next 16 years. Part of his job was to counsel the president on the military capabilities of America's enemies.
In 1963, Polaroid released the first "instant" camera that used color film.
In 1968, Land encouraged Polaroid to support the civil rights movement and as a part of this initiative he hired people belonging to the minority groups in his company.
In 1980, this visionary scientist resigned as Chairman of Polaroid after more than 40 years with the company.
After retiring, he founded the ‘Rowland Institute for Science’ to continue research work on optics. His laboratory eventually discovered how color is perceived in the human brain.
Awards & Achievements
This renowned inventor was awarded the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’, in 1963.
Land was awarded the ‘IRI Medal’ for outstanding technological innovation in 1965, as well as over a dozen other major scientific and technological awards, in addition to being accepted as a ‘Fellow of the Royal Society’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Edwin was married Helen Terre Maislen in 1929. Together, they had two children.
He passed away in Cambridge, Massachusetts of natural causes on March 1, 1991 at the age of 81.
Herbert was the epitome of the "absent-minded professor", who would sometimes get so caught up with his work that he'd forget to eat for hours. He once wore the same clothes for 18 days in a row while working on one particularly thorny problem.
Land was an accomplished scientist despite the fact that he had no official formal degrees. Everyone referred to him as Dr. Land out of respect for his achievements, except the Wall Street Journal, which refused to do so. By the time of his death, Land held 535 patents in his name.