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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:658 1905-2005 P762 IX

Polaroid Corporation records, series IX: corporate archives records


This series contains records kept by the Polaroid Corporation archivist and curator related to photography and art collections, photographs and the day to day operations of the Polaroid Corporate Archives.


  • 1935-2001


Conditions Governing Access

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


22 linear feet (54 boxes, 10 cartons)

This collection consists of the records and documents kept and managed by the Polaroid Corporate Archives. In 1943, under the direction of Edwin H. Land, the company established the Polaroid Museum to document and educate company employees about its history. The Corporate Archives was officially established in 1983 in advance of Polaroid’s 50th anniversary in 1987. The Polaroid Museum material became part of the Archives holdings. The Corporate Archives' sought to determine and understand what they possessed, what they did not, and what they should possess. The Archives served two purposes after it was established; it was an internal reference source and a clearinghouse for photographs and historical materials used by external entities. The Polaroid archivist and curator made a concerted effort to catalog materials held by the company into distinct collections. Examples of collections include the advertising collection, the camera collection, Meroe Morse collection, and photographs collection. They also identified, inventoried, and cataloged photograph collections containing works by renowned photographers including Ansel Adams and Paul Caponigro.

The Polaroid Corporate Archives records include reference volumes, correspondence, internal company memos, budget and planning documents, annual activity reports, collection inventories, loan agreements for Polaroid materials, oral histories relating to Project Joshua, and seminal historical materials collected by the Polaroid Archives to document company history.

Biographical / Historical

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 Polascreen 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


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Polaroid Corporation, 2006, 2008.

Related Materials

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 IX: 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, series III: research and development records, circa 1905-2005; 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.

Processing Information

Processed: By: Ben 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.


Baker Library
January 2019
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

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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