LAND'S POLAROID: A Company and the Man Who Invented It by Peter C. Wensberg

LAND'S POLAROID: A Company and the Man Who Invented It

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A series of vignettes that provide an evocative portrait of Edwin H. Land, the scientific prodigy who founded Polaroid Corp. before he was 30 and made instant photography a commercial reality. Throughout his remarkably productive career, the sorcerer had many apprentices. One was Wensberg, a marketing executive who spent 24 years at Polaroid, leaving in 1982--two months after Land's somewhat reluctant retirement. With rare exceptions, though, the author keeps himself in the background; his focus is firmly on Land. Born in 1909, Land quit Harvard before earning a degree to exploit the industrial potential of a clear plastic material he had developed that polarized light. His fledgling firm limped along, filling orders for sunglasses, camera filters, and related glare-reduction applications. A mass market for auto headlights, however, eluded Polaroid, and WW II military contracts probably saved the company. During a wartime vacation in Santa Fe, N.M., the charming story goes, Land's young daughter asked him why she had to wait for prints of the snapshots they had taken. Why indeed, with a genius for a father? By 1948, Jennifer and the consuming public were able to get pictures in seconds, courtesy of the Polaroid Land camera. Wensberg offers clear explanations of the state-of-the-art breakthroughs in chemistry, optics, and allied disciplines that were required to produce increasingly sophisticated models of the basic camera. He also provides frequently hilarious detail on how Land's flair for showmanship helped launch them. The author does not, though, probe the character of his remote and often disingenuous subject in any systematic way. Nor does he strive for a comprehensive corporate history, let alone address the issue of what the company might do for an encore without its longtime mentor. To illustrate, there's no mention of the class action involving Polavision (an instant motion-picture system that has proved a marketplace dud), and coverage of the protracted Polaroid/Kodak patent litigation is sketchy at best. While more an album than a definitive record, Wensberg's text offers an agreeable blend of firsthand reminiscence and informed commentary on a consequentially gifted individual. (There are 24 pages of pictures, including lab shots of Land and candids of celebrity endorsers--Sir Laurence Olivier, James Garner, Mariette Hartley, et al.)

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1987
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin