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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:658 1905-2005 P762 III

Polaroid Corporation records, series III: research and development records


This series of the Polaroid Corporation records contains the research and development files, circa 1905 to 2000. Included are records of Polaroid scientists that document the development of products including goggles, polarizers, vectographs, three dimensional movies and the creation, development and perfection of instant black and white and color photography.


  • 1905-2000
  • Majority of material found within 1930-1985


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact for more information.


620 linear feet (9 volumes, 1231 boxes, 74 oversize folders, and 78 rolled items)

The research and development department was Polaroid's heart and soul. Every product invented, developed and produced by the company had its genesis there. Within the research and development records are subject files of Polaroid's most important scientists, physicists and chemists that document their day to day work on projects from sheet polarizers for automobile headlights to polarizing sunglasses to three-dimensional movies. The bulk of the records in this collection document Polaroid's work to develop and perfect the first black and white instant photography and later color photography.

This series contains the records of the Polaroid Corporation's research and development arm dating from the circa 1905 to 2000 with the bulk from the 1930s to 1990s. The series is arranged in six groupings: I. Scientist records; II. Photographic process research and development; III. Cameras and other projects; IV. Library reading files and publications; V. Daily research reports; and VI. United States Armed Services contract work. The scientist records consist of subject files, memos, correspondence, scientific publications, patents and research and tests of film speed, dye transfer, developers, polarizers, vectographs and three dimensional images and movies. The photographic process research and development contains records of the development of one-step instant black and white photography and color photography including density and sensitivity tests, charts, emulsion tests, dye tests, research notebooks and the records of Project Genesis. Cameras and other project records include research on vectographs and three-dimensional movies, ultraviolet microscopes, desk lamps, cameras, polarizers and automobile headlights. The records illustrate the breadth of products invented and marketed by Polaroid. A large portion of this series includes diazotype and Vandyke process technical drawings of Polaroid products created by Polaroid's scientists and engineers. The drawings date from 1938 to 1955. Reading files and publications includes the reading files, research publications, technical system and troubleshooting manuals, supply catalogs and scientific articles kept by the Polaroid research library. United States Armed Services contract work consists of records created while Polaroid assisted the war effort during World War II. Polaroid manufactured equipment for the the United State Navy, Air Force, and Army including machine gun trainers, goggles, lenses for surveillance, binoculars, and periscopes. There are strong relationships between material in all series and researchers should be advised to search across the entire finding aid. The Research and Development records came to Baker Library from three separate storage facilities.

Historical Note:

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.

Physical Location



Gift of Polaroid Corporation, 2006, 2008.

Related Material

The Polaroid Corporation records are comprised of the company's original corporate archives, donated to Harvard Business School in 2006. The collection is arranged into different series based on format or function. In addition to the Polaroid Corporation records, series III: research and development records, the following series are open for research: Polaroid Corporation records, series I: administrative records, circa 1930-2005; Polaroid Corporation records, series II: legal and patent records, circa 1905-1995; Polaroid Corporation records related to Edwin H. Land, series V, 1927-1995; and Polaroid Corporation records, series VII: records related to Meroë Morse, 1907-1972. Researchers should note that there is considerable overlap in the subject matter contained in the various series, and are advised to search across all of the series finding aids for specific subjects or records.

For additional research and devlopment notebooks, see and Polaroid Corporation research laboratory notebooks, 1951-2002.

Separated Materials

Audiovisual material has been separated from the collection. This material is part of the audiovisual series and is closed pending processing.

Processing Information

Processed: June 2015, 2018

By: Benjamin Johnson

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.


Ben Johnson
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Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections and Archives, Harvard Business School Repository

Baker Library Special Collections and Archives 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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