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When Was the Polaroid Invented?

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By Dillon Wallace

When you think of Polaroid cameras, your first thought may be André 3000 singing “Shake, shake, shake it like a Polaroid picture” in Outkast’s 2003 smash hit Hey Ya. What? Just me?

 

Anyway, that was back at the turn of the millennium nearly 20 years ago. But, what if I were to tell you that the origin of the Polaroid picture goes back way farther than that? Nope, not with the grunge days of the 90s. Brought in on the new wave of the 80s? Not even close. It wasn’t groovy enough to be invented in the 70s. You may have had a gas with using it in the 60s, but it still predates the Beatles. Even Elvis Presley and his devilish hips weren’t the cause of invention. You’ve got to go all the way back to 1948 to learn about the origin story of the Polaroid camera.

 

Behold the Model 95: Rise of instant photography

The first public demonstration of instant photography was on February 21, 1947 during a meeting of the Optical Society of America in the one and only New York City. The innovation left such an impression with attendees that the newspapers called it a revolution. The man behind the “revolutionary” invention was American inventor and physicist, Edwin Herbert Land.

 

By 1948, Land and co. released the first Polaroid camera, called the Model 95, at a department store in Boston. Within a matter of minutes, the camera had entirely sold out. And while that original Polaroid film was different from the ones most of us grew up with (it shot images in sepia and you had to wait 60 seconds before peeling off the negative backing), customers couldn’t get enough of the nearly instant results. Needless to say, it was a huge hit.

 

In 1950, a true black and white version of the Polaroid was created through a collaboration of Land and Meroë Morse, an art history major from Smith College. However, this new black-and-white film version came with an extra step in the development process – manually swabbing the developed image with a polymer to prevent the photo from darkening too much. Even though it required a little extra effort, again customers couldn’t get enough of it.

 

By 1957, the Polaroid process was so adored that the New York Times called instant photography “equal in tonal range and brilliance to some of the finest prints made by the usual darkroom routine.” While that’s a far cry from today’s truth, for the time, it definitely was revolutionary, especially as instant color photography exploded in the 1960’s. By 1972, Land and Polaroid had released the SX-70, which represented more of the “true” instant take on the Polaroid pictures that most of us grew up using. It was the culmination of Land’s original 1943 dream of absolute instant photography. A dream he got to witness and enjoy for nearly two decades before his death in 1991.

 

Rise of the Polaroid (again)

By the 1990s, Polaroid cameras really started to see a decline in sales. Customers were opting for the sharper shooting disposable cameras, and shutter-enthusiasts who had the money to shell out were tapping into the convenient world of digital photography by the end of the decade.

 

Now, our smartphones have a more powerful camera(s) and instant process than the Polaroid could have ever dreamed back in its heyday. Point. Shoot. Share. So, why is the outdated “instant film” of Polaroid cameras making a comeback? 

 

Simple: nostalgia.

 

The age old saying of “Everything old is new again” applies to the Polaroid camera and shutter bugs just like vinyl records appeal to audiophiles and music lovers. There’s something about the tangibility of things (that physical touch) that draws people in, whether they’re adults now who grew up using the analog method or kids today wanting to experience how something was done back in the day for the first time. Regardless of what the true answer is, I think we can all agree that it’s still incredibly fun to “Shake, shake, shake it like a Polaroid picture.”

 

Got any old Polaroid pictures laying around? Send them into Legacybox today and let our team of professional digitizers preserve your memories for years to come!

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