Polaroid Corporation records, series VI: audiovisual collection
The Polaroid Corporation audiovisual collection contains over 5000 items of audio, video and film in a wide variety of formats.
- 1937-2005 and undated
- Polaroid Corporation (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Materials stored offsite; access requires advance notice. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Due to the fragility of audiovisual materials and the difficulty with play back, researchers must work with digital copies rather than with the original recordings. Digital use copies for items that have been digitized can only be accessed onsite in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room on a designated Special Collections computer. Researchers are not permitted to copy or download any digital files. To learn more about access to digitized content, options for digitizing additional materials, or obtaining use copies please contact email@example.com prior to visiting the library.
Please note that digital use copies have not been created for every item listed in this finding aid.
Users can request access to digital materials in this collection. See folder or item level notes for additional information.
Extent475 linear feet (397 boxes)
109.1 Gigabytes (5 digitized video files)
The Polaroid Corporation audiovisual collection contains over 5,000 items of audio, video and film in a wide variety of formats. The content provides both a broad overview of the company – including how it developed and publicized its various products, how the company was viewed by the media, and its numerous sponsorship of events and lecture series - and a more intimate insight into its leaders and employees through its shareholders meetings, remembrances and tributes to Edwin Land after his death, and a few "home" movies of employees engaging in different activities. Many of the materials in the video and film series overlap in content as the Polaroid Corporation not only migrated content from outdated formats to newer formats (for example, film to U-matic to VHS) but also produced multiple copies of commercials for distribution, and in the case of shareholder meetings recorded them in both audio and video. A small percentage of the materials have been digitized and scope and content notes exist for each of those items. The collection is divided into three series by format: I. Audio, II. Video, and III. Film.
The Polaroid Corporation was an iconic, 20th century company whose pioneering achievements in optics and engineering continue to have technological, social and artistic significance. The beginnings of the Polaroid Corporation can be traced to Edwin H. Land’s breakthrough research on polarizers. After a leave of absence from Harvard College in 1926 to study the development of a synthetic light-polarizing material, Land returned to Harvard in 1929 and continued his research in the Harvard Physics Department. There he met physics instructor George W. Wheelwright III, who provided Land with a laboratory to conduct his research. In 1932, Land presented a paper on his synthetic polarizing materials and Wheelwright convinced him to leave college before graduating to start a company together. Land-Wheelwright Laboratories was formed in 1933 and Land received his first of many patents for “Polarizing Refracting Bodies.”
Over the next several years Land and Wheelwright set up operations to manufacture an inexpensive plastic sheet polarizer. At the end of 1935, the first advertisement of the material appeared in a scientific journal, followed by a public announcement in New York. Demand for the product grew quickly and in 1937, Land-Wheelwright Laboratories was reincorporated as the Polaroid Corporation. Wheelwright left the company in the early 1940s, but stayed on as a member of the Board of Directors until 1948.
Following the outbreak of World War II, the company’s activities were largely directed to invention, development and manufacture of war products, materials and devices. Research projects were conducted under direct contracts with Navy Bureaus, the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and other agencies of the government. During this time, the number of employees increased from 200 to a wartime peak of 1,250. After the war ended, Polaroid was faced with a reconversion task of considerable magnitude which brought new organizational and technical skills gained from its wartime experience. In addition to Polaroid Day Glasses and Polarscreen Camera filters, uses for Polaroid polarized materials included glare-free lamps and airplane windows. Strong sales enabled the company to fund further research and development in other areas including 3-D motion picture film, vectographs, and the subsequent breakthrough with instant photography in 1947.
Land’s landmark introduction of the concept of instant photography at a meeting of the Optical Society of America in New York City instantly changed photography and the company itself. In 1948, the Polaroid Land Camera, Model 95, and Land film, Type 40 was introduced to the public and through orchestrated marketing was a sellout. Edwin Land remained dedicated to creating a transformative photographic process and over the next three decades Polaroid developed dozens of new cameras, films, and products. Major innovations from the 1950s to the 1970s included the Polaroid Transparency System (1957), ID-2 Identification System (1966), the SX-70 (1972), and the Polavision Land System (1978). During this time Land also approached the welfare of his employees in deeply humanistic ways, creating a culture of innovation and exploration within Polaroid that spurred research and innovation. He tapped into the talented pool of researchers at Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Smith College, and routinely employed women in top-level research positions, an unusual practice at the time.
After Land left the company in 1982, Polaroid continued to develop new products for various markets. In 2001, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy protection and the brand name continues to be used to license and market various electronics.
The Polaroid Corporation records were received by Baker Library Special Collections as a donation from the Polaroid Corporation in 2006 and 2008.
Processed: June 2017
By: Benjamin Johnson and Mary Samouelian
The Polaroid Corporation audiovisual collection was surveyed at the item level in 2016, and the items are in the original order in which they came to Baker Library Special Collections. Title and date information was gleaned from the physical item, and in the cases in which no title or date information existed, the terms "Untitled" and "undated" were used.
Due to the large physical size of the Polaroid Corporation records, similar records that are related as a result of being created, received, or used in the same activity have been grouped into series and an individual finding aid created for each. Each series has been assigned a roman numeral which is found in the series title and precedes all container identifiers. The order of the series does not reflect the original arrangement of the entire collection. Researchers should take care to note the full item number when requesting or citing Polaroid Corporation collection materials.
014681354_AT_0144 (Box VI.197) “Ansel Adams Presentation” (1/4 Inch Open Reel Audio, 1979) and 014681354_AT_0146 (Box VI.197) "Ansel Adams new track" (1/4 Inch Open Reel Audio, 1979) were reviewed and deaccessioned in 2021 (duplicates of 014681354_AT_0143.)
014681354_VT_0008 (Box VI.70) “Ansel Adams Photographer” (VHS, content 1957) and 014681354_VT_0139 (Carton 279) "Ansel Adams, photographer" (UMatic, content 1957) were reviewed and deaccessioned in 2021 (duplicates of 014681354_FM_0089.) P4425 (Box 69) "Mac Booth Meeting Only" was reviewed and deacessioned in 2022 (duplicate of 014681354_VT_0017).
- Polaroid Corporation. Polaroid Corporation Records, Series VI: Audiovisual Collection, 1937-2005 and undated
- Baker Library
- Description rules
- Language of description
- EAD ID
Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository
Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.
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