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Edwin Herbert Land (May 12 1909 – March 1 1991) was an American scientist and inventor. Among other things, he invented inexpensive filters for polarizing light, instant polaroid photography, and his retinex theory of color vision. At one time, he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's richest scientist.
Edwin was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut to Harry and Helen Land. His father owned a scrap metal yard. He was an alumnus of the Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Connecticut, a semi-private high school. The library there was posthumously named for him, having been funded by grants from his family. He studied chemistry at Harvard University. After his freshman year, he left Harvard for New York City.
In New York City, he invented the first inexpensive filters capable of polarizing light. Because he was not associated with an educational institution, he lacked the tools of a proper laboratory. Instead, he would sneak into a laboratory at Columbia University late at night to use their equipment. He also availed himself of the New York City public library to scour the scientific literature for prior work on polarizing substances. His breakthrough came when he realized that instead of attempting to grow a large single crystal of a polarizing substance, he could manufacture a film with millions of micrometre-sized polarizing crystals that were coaxed into perfect alignment with each other.
After developing a polarizing film, Edwin Land returned to Harvard. However, he still did not finish his studies or receive a degree. Once Land could see the solution to a problem in his head, he lost all motivation to write it down or prove his vision to others.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Often his wife, at the prodding of his instructor, would extract from him the answers to homework problems. She would then write up the homework and hand it in so he could receive credit and not fail the course.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
In 1932 he established the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories together with his Harvard physics instructor to commercialize his polarizing technology. Wheelwright, his instructor, came from a family of financial means and agreed to fund the company. After a few early successes developing polarizing filters for sunglasses and photographic filters, Land obtained funding from a series of Wall Street inventors for further expansion. The company was renamed the Polaroid Corporation in 1937. Land further developed and produced the sheet polarizers under the Polaroid trademark. Although the initial major application was for sunglasses and scientific work, it quickly found many additional applications: for glasses in full-color stereoscopic (3-D) movies, to control brightness of light through a window, a necessary component of all LCDs, and many more. During World War II, he worked on military tasks developing dark-adaptation goggles, target finders, the first passively guided smart bombs, and a special stereoscopic viewing system called the Vectrograph which revealed camoflauged enemy positions in aerial photography.
Although the war had been very good to Polaroid financially, Land knew to be prepared for eventual victory of the United States. He needed a product which could sustain the company after its military contracts had run their course. While on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Land got his inspiration. After a day of local sightseeing with his three year old daughter, she asked to see the pictures they had taken. She was disappointed when Land tried, in vain, to explain that they needed to be developed and printed and that she wouldn't be able to view them that evening. She wanted to see her pictures right away.
A little more than three years later, on February 21 1947, Edwin Land demonstrated an instant camera and associated film. Called the Land Camera, it was in commercial sale less than two years later. Polaroid originally manufactured sixty units of this first camera. Fifty-seven were put up for sale at Boston's Jordan Marsh department store before the 1948 Christmas holiday. Polaroid marketers incorrectly guessed that the camera and film would remain in stock long enough to manufacture a second run based on customer demand. All fifty-seven cameras and all of the film were sold on first day of demonstrations.
During his time at Polaroid, Land was notorious for his marathon research sessions. When Land conceived of an idea, he would experiment and brainstorm until the problem was solved with no breaks of any kind. He needed to have food brought to him and to be reminded to eat.[How to reference and link to summary or text] He once wore the same clothes for eighteen days straight while solving problems with the commercial production of polarizing film.[How to reference and link to summary or text] As the Polaroid company grew, Land had teams of assistants working in shifts at his side. As one team wore out, the next team was brought in to continue the work.
In the 1950s, Edwin Land and his team helped design the optics of the revolutionary Lockheed U-2 spy plane. Also in this decade, Land first discovered a two-color system for projecting the entire spectrum of hues with only two colors of projecting light (he later found more specifically that one could achieve the same effect using very narrow bands of 500nm and 557nm light). Some of this was written up later in the 1970s with his Retinex theory. In 1957 Harvard University awarded him an honorary doctorate. Later Edwin H. Land Blvd. a street in Cambridge, MA was named in his memory. The street forms the beginning of Memorial Drive, where the Polaroid company building was located.
In the early 1970s, he attempted to explain the previously known phenomenon of color constancy with his Retinex theory of color vision. His popular demonstrations of color constancy raised much interest in the concept. His crowning achievement was his leadership and vision towards the development of integral instant color photography, the SX-70 film and camera.
Although he led the Polaroid Corporation as a chief executive, he was a scientist first. Despite the fact that he held no formal degree, employees, friends, and the press respected his scientific genius by calling him Dr. Land. The only exception was the Wall Street Journal. They refused to append the Dr. title to his name throughout his lifetime.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
He often made technical and management decisions based on what was right as a scientist and as a humanist, much to the chagrin of Wall Street or his investors. He led Polaroid to the forefront of the affirmative action movement after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. From the beginning of his professional career, he hired women and trained them to be research scientists. As a scientist and made sure he performed "an experiment each day".
In his retirement years, he founded the Rowland Institute for Science. Edwin Herbert Land died on March 1, 1991 in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the age of 82. Upon his death, his personal assistant shredded his personal papers and notes.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Although Land never received a formal degree, he received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Carnegie Institute of Technology, University, Willams College, Tufts College, Washington University, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, University of Massachusetts, Brandeis University and many others. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a U.S. citizen, in 1963 for his work in optics. He held 535 patents, second only to Thomas Edison's 1,097. In 1977 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1988 Land was awarded the National Medal of Technology for "the invention, development and marketing of instant photography".
- Short biography
- "Generation of Greatness: The Idea of a University in an Age of Science", Ninth Annual Arthur Dehon Little Memorial Lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. May 22, 1957
- Edwin Herbert Land
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