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Harvard University Library Notes / November 2006 / No. 1334
Baker Library Acquires Polaroid Archives
Edwin H. Land (1909-1991), the legendary founder of the Polaroid Corporation, was born in the industrial city of Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1926, Land enrolled briefly in Harvard College, though he left for New York after a few short months to pursue his own research on optics—particularly on polarization. He re-enrolled a few years later, and, in 1932, earned distinction as the only undergraduate ever to lead a Harvard physics seminar. Land never completed his Harvard degree. Entrepreneurial from an early age, he and Harvard physics instructor George Wheelwright III launched the manufacturing organization that in 1937 became the Polaroid Corporation.
Recently, the archives of the Polaroid Corporation, a unique collection of materials that document the evolution of one of America's most famous and innovative companies, have been donated to the Harvard Business School's Baker Library (HBS).
Housed in the library's Historical Collections, the Polaroid Corporation Collection includes approximately 4,000 linear feet of materials dating from the company's founding in 1937 to the present—and chronicling the invention of instant photography by Polaroid founder Dr. Edwin H. Land.
Artifacts within the collection include sunglasses, military goggles, 3-D glasses, and examples of many of the camera models and accessories Polaroid produced from the early 1950s to the late 1990s. Portions of the collection will be available for research use in mid-2007.
Notable items within the collection are research and development files and patent records that detail the company's many innovations, including Dr. Land's early work with polarizing lenses and the invention of instant photography. The firm's marketing and publicity efforts are well documented by an extensive collection of advertising materials, product packaging, and corporate publications.
The collection also contains a vast and comprehensive set of photographs taken by Polaroid employees and professional photographers from 1937 to the 1990s. These images were taken for research purposes during the testing of new Polaroid products and as part of the company's advertising campaigns.
"Students and scholars in a number of areas—from business history and management to marketing and technology—will benefit greatly from access to these important materials," said HBS Professor Geoff Jones, one of the School's directors of research. "In addition to the rich material on path-breaking scientific inventions and innovations, this collection allows us to view at close range the corporate decisions and activities of an iconic American company."