“Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible” -Edwin Land
I recently read two excellent books about the Polaroid corporation. Peter C. Wensberg's Land's Polaroid (1987) is an adventure story of American invention and empire building. It's a fantastic tale and the best thing I read last year. Christopher Bonanos' Instant (2012) is beautifully illustrated and includes 25 further years of history.
Edwin Land is my hero. Steve Jobs couldn't hold a candle to the mystery and magnificence of Land's genius. Not only did Land conceive polarized filters, 3D photography and film, heat seeking missiles, instant photography and all its advances, he was also a trailblazer in human centre manufacturing processes and employing female scientists. I'm enamoured with Land's habit of employing young people with a degree in the humanities and making them into scientists in his personal back room laboratory.
In it's heyday Polaroid was one the top five wealthiest companies in the US. Today it has 30 employees and exists strictly as a licensing company. I experienced this sad state of affairs first hand when visiting the Polaroid booth at the CES 2013. While the company was capitalizing on Polaroid's heritage, the extensive product line was a hodgepodge of garbage with no common design language or quality standard. Core77 strangely wrote "Polaroid must be the best place for an industrial designer to work at". In fact, it's unlikely Polaroid employs designers of any kind at all.
Bonanos quotes Land's response to Kodak's theft of instant photography, "We took nothing from anybody. We gave a great deal to the world. The only thing keeping us alive is our brilliance. The only thing that keeps our brilliance alive is our patents." Patents and Land himself.