Polaroid Corporation Collection

Take a closer look at the iconic, twentieth-century company whose pioneering achievements in optics and engineering continue to have technological, social, and artistic significance.
Edwin H. Land demonstrating Polaroid Land instant film, April 1947.
Polaroid Corporation Records. Baker Library, Harvard Business School

Polaroid Corporation was among the most creative and technologically innovative companies of the twentieth century. From the company's start, founder Edwin H. Land fostered invention and creativity within the culture of a small, science-based research and manufacturing company.

The records of the Polaroid Corporation records span nearly 3500 linear feet of material related to the company’s operations prior to its inception to after its bankruptcy trial ended in the mid-2010s.

The beginnings of the Polaroid Corporation can be traced to Land’s breakthrough research on polarizers. In 1933, Land received his first of more than 500 patents for “Polarizing Refracting Bodies.” Demand for the product grew quickly and in 1937 his early company Land-Wheelwright Laboratories was reincorporated as the Polaroid Corporation. 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. In addition to Polaroid Day Glasses and Polarscreen Camera filters, uses for Polaroid polarized materials included glare-free lamps, airplane windows, 3-D motion picture film, and the subsequent breakthrough with instant photography in 1947. 

A black and white photograph of a man holding a set of filters
George W. Wheelwright III demonstrating Polaroid polarizing lenses, circa 1930s.
Polaroid Corporation Records. Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

Soon after the camera release, Polaroid began engaging fine arts photographers as freelance consultants to the company. The consultant photographers were involved in the intensive research and development process behind Polaroid's instant photography products. They tested film and cameras and provided technical as well as aesthetic feedback on the materials. Their ability to judge the creative potential of the material complimented the scientific and engineering ingenuity of the Polaroid labs. 

For over 50 years, the company continued its research and experimentation, developing innovative new products. In 2001, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy protection and the brand name continues to be used to license and market various electronics.

Our collection features correspondence and memos, patents, human resource records, marketing materials, research and development documentation, test photographs, audiovisual materials, and annual reports. The material encompasses all aspects of the company’s history and has been broken down into the operational units of the company. These operational units include administrative, legal and patent, research and development, photographs, corporate archives, audiovisual, and consultant photographers.

Materials include:

  • Administrative records (series I)
    • Included are corporate governance and leadership records, 1953-1995; public relations and communications records, 1937-2005; and human resources and personnel management records, 1940-1996.
  • Legal and patent records (series II)
    • Contains patent application files, legal office administrative files, patents, material gathered for legal trials, and records relating to the landmark patent infringement lawsuit, Polaroid vs. Kodak.
  • Research and development records (series III)
    • Records of Polaroid scientists that document the manufacture of innovative products during World War II and the creation, development and perfection of instant black and white and color photography.
  • Photographs and correspondence of Polaroid consultant photographer Ansel Adams (series IV)
    • Ansel Adams tested nearly every product Polaroid made in his role as consultant photographer from 1949-1984. The collections contains detailed memoranda and test photographs, describing his experiences and opinions of Polaroid products.
  • Records related to Edwin H. Land (series V)
    •  Records related to Polaroid co-founder and chairman Edwin H. Land. Included in this series are articles and presentations by Land, published biographical works about Land, and photographs taken by Land and featuring Land as the subject.
  • Audiovisual collection (series VI)
    •  Over 5,000 items of audio, video and film, providing both a broad overview of the company and a more intimate insight into its leaders and employees through its shareholders meetings.
  • Records related to Meroë Morse (series VII)
    • Includes administrative records, research and development records, and photographs. Morse was one of the first women scientists to work at Polaroid.
  • Corporate archives records (series IX)
    • 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.
  • Photograph and visual materials collection (series X) 
    •  Documents the progression of the photographic processes and film research and development efforts of the Polaroid Corporation beginning in the late 1930s and ending in the 1980s.
  • Photographs of Polaroid consultant photographers (series XI)
    • Polaroid employed fine art photographers to test and critique their products. This series contains photographs from a selection of these artists.
  • Marketing and advertising records (series XII)
    •  Documents the company's efforts to market and sell their wide variety of products including sunglasses, anti-glare visors, polarizers, cameras, and film, to a rapidly evolving variety of markets
  • Polaroid Corporation research laboratory notebooks
    • Notebooks created as part of routine research and development activities, circa 1950s-2002, containing detailed historical laboratory records created by Polaroid image scientists, organic chemists, polymer chemists, and physicists in the photometric laboratory in the research and development department.
  • Polaroid Corporation records held by the Polaroid Bankruptcy Estate
    • Records include Board of Directors agendas and minutes, shareholder meeting records, legal records, and patents.

For more information, see Baker Library's exhibit At the Intersection of Science and Art: Edwin H. Land & the Polaroid Corporation

View Exhibition Video

Accessing These Materials

All materials are available for use in Baker Library's de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room. 

Due to the large physical size of the Polaroid Corporation records, they 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 Special Collections and Archives