Shake it like a Polaroid picture.

The Polaroid brand has become so iconic that the name doesn’t even necessarily have a strict association with the original product anymore. It’s more than that, it’s a culturally resonant idea that’s tied closely to capturing a moment in time, tied to fun and deep emotion. That’s why singer Andre 3000 used the line in his 2003 song Hey Ya!, this time as a dance move where the hands are shaken. Everyone who heard that song instantly knew the motion that he was talking about because Polaroid is so embedded in the public consciousness. 

Inventing Memories

Polaroid is an American company, founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land. His idea was to use the recently patented Polaroid polarizing polymer. This new polymer was made up of a series of microscopic crystals made of herapathite that were embedded in a polymer film made of transparent nitrocellulose. Through the use of electric fields or magnetic fields or even stretching, the product could be coaxed to absorb light or transmit light. Essentially, the invention of this polymer allowed instant film to be created. 

Land left his studies at Harvard University to pursue the business of his camera, though he would come back to continue his research. He developed products for the U.S. Military during World War II. 

Up until this point, photographs had to be developed in a dark room through an intensive process. Film was sensitive and required training to handle. The Polaroid polarizing polymer changed that. 

Land is considered to be the father of the instant camera, in fact he’s arguably the father of the modern obsession with pictures. By the late sixties, he had perfected his camera film and was marketing it as the Polaroid. Life Magazine put him on its cover with the tag line “A Genius and His Magic Camera”. 

The man behind the research would lead Polaroid for forty-three years, through its heyday and to its greatest heights.

Stolen Film

In a lawsuit that dragged on for a decade, Polaroid sued rival Kodak starting in 1976 when that company put an instant camera on the market. Polaroid asked for twelve billion dollars in damages, and eventually won their copyright infringement lawsuit. However they were only awarded just over nine hundred million dollars, nowhere close to the billions they asked for.

Edwin Land continued to develop new products, and in 1977 he rolled out an instant home movie camera called Polavision. The problem was that the market had already moved on by the time it got to the shelves as people had moved towards video tapes. This led to a company loss of eighty-nine million dollars and Land was pushed out of his own company. He was forced to resign, and died in 1991.

Fall of the Polaroid

Despite its ubiquity in the popular consciousness, Polaroid wasn’t able to create a long lasting company portfolio. With changing times came changing technology, and Polaroid just couldn’t keep up. The company ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. It discontinued its entire line of products. The company’s bankruptcy proceedings were fraught with problems, including giant payouts for high level company executives while creditors went unpaid. 

After the bankruptcy was over, Polaroid continued to license its patents and its technology. Eventually, the company was bought by Oskar Smolokowski, and investor and entrepreneur who had been licensing Polaroid’s technology for some time. When he gained rights to the name in 2017, this Polish investor rebranded his products as Polaroid Originals. The company now manufactures instant cameras, but it also makes sunglasses, the Cube action camera, television units, and digital cameras.