May 19, 2017

Edwin Land with an instant photograph. Courtesy of the Harvard Business School.

He created Polaroid. He was one of the most prolific patenters of the 20th century. Steve Jobs viewed him as a hero. His name was Edwin Land, and you probably haven’t heard of him. To rectify this, we talked with Ronald Fierstein, author of the book, A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War. We also took a trip over to Harvard Business School’s exhibit on Polaroid’s formative years. So join us on an exploration of the life and legacy of a great American inventor and innovator.

Three Takeaways:

  • Instant photography was actually based on an idea from Land’s daughter. After Land took a photo, she asked her father why she couldn’t see the photo right away. Land considered the problem for a while, and the Polaroid camera began to take shape in his mind.
  • Kodak and Polaroid had a massive, years-long court battle over the patents to instant photography. Polaroid eventually won, Kodak was forced to pay nearly a billion dollars in damages, and the landscape of patent law was forever altered.
  • Polaroid didn’t do market research on its famous camera. According to Land, “It’s not our job to give people what they want, it’s our job to give people what they can’t even imagine.”

More Reading:

Photos Courtesy of the Harvard Business School’s Baker Library, thanks to Laura Linard and Melissa Murphy.

Polaroid Photo Album

Polaroid, Business, history

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