This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Jerry Lewis “Helping” Jack Parr


February 21, 1947: Instant Pictures First Demonstrated

The miracle of instant film is demonstrated for the first time on this day in 1947. The idea of instantly seeing a picture you just took enamored the public. Edwin H. Land, the founder of the Polaroid Corporation, developed instant film for the camera that he lent his name to.


Land was inspired by his 3 year old daughter, Jennifer, during a family vacation in New Mexico. On a sunny day she asked why she couldn’t see the picture he had just taken of her.

As Gigi Anders, formally of the Washington Post wrote back in 2008.

Land, who believed “you always start with a fantasy,” dropped out of Harvard after freshman year, where he’d studied physics and chemistry, married Helen Maislen in 1929, and partnered with one of his instructors, George Wheelwright III, to create the Polaroid Corporation. In 1943, during a family vacation in New Mexico, Land’s 3-year-old daughter, Jennifer, asked why she couldn’t see the picture he’d just taken of her on that sunny day.

“Stimulated by the dangerously invigorating plateau air of Santa Fe,” Land recalled, he fantasized about creating something perfect, immediate, intuitive, and massive. With Ansel Adams advising him, Land wanted to create a camera “that’s part of you, that’s always with you . . . it would enlarge [amateurs’] horizons” by [providing] “a feeling of personal identification with the world in the way that photography has always hoped to do.”

polaroid pop sci

The camera eventually became known by the name of Land’s company, the Polaroid. Using developer and fixer contained in sacs with the film and photographic paper in a layered packet, the first Polaroid camera could produce a black-and-white photo in 60 seconds.

After the exposure was made, the packet was pulled out of the camera, which squeezed the chemicals from their sacs and began the developing process.

Polaroid Model 95

Polaroid Model 95

The Polaroid instant camera went on sale in late 1948. Though Polaroid continued producing instant cameras after 1983, the name ‘Land’ was dropped from the camera name since Edwin retired in 1982.  The first commercially available model was the Polaroid Land Camera Model 95, which produced prints in about 1 minute, and was first sold to the public in November, 1948.


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