In honor of National Inventor’s Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Jewish inventor Edwin Herbert Land (1909 – 1991). Although Land is best known for his Polaroid camera, he actually held well over 500 patents.

The son of Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, Land was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where his father owned a scrapyard. Land began studying chemistry at Harvard University in 1927, but left after his freshman year to work on his own scientific experiments. In New York City, he spent his days in the Public Library and his nights “borrowing” a lab at Columbia University. That year, he invented the first useable polarizing filter. He returned to Harvard for three years, but dropped out again and opened the Land-Wheelright Laboratories. In 1937, the company was renamed Polaroid Corporation. Land’s polarizing technology was used in a wide range of inventions, including night-vision goggles, 3-D glasses, liquid crystal displays (LCD) and even the U-2 spy plane.

In 1947, Land introduced his instant camera. The first commercial offering, at Christmas 1948, sold out immediately.

While running Polaroid, Land continued to experiment. He was known for spending days on end finessing an idea, and he once went 18 days without even changing his clothes! Land remained the head of the company until 1981, when he stepped down following the very negative reception to his Polavision instant movie system. He later founded the Rowland Institute for Science.

Land was also renowned for being ahead of his time in prioritizing hiring women and African-Americans at his labs. He received numerous awards throughout the years and, in 1957, Harvard University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

On March 1, 1991, Land passed away. A street was named in his memory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, his personal assistant shredded his papers, so most of his notes and personal reflections were lost.

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