Sunday, September 11, 2005

Edwin Land

TIA Daily regular contributor Gene Barth writes:

While an undergraduate at Harvard Edwin Land came up with his first commercial idea: creation of a sheet of plastic whose well aligned polymer molecules allowed only light polarized in one plane to pass through the sheet.

From his physics education, Land knew that that light reflected off pavement, snow, or water at a low incident angle (low sun, headlights, etc) emerges from the reflection polarized in one plane. By mounting pieces of his polarizing plastic in the frame of glasses so that the "plane of transmittance" of the plastic was perpendicular to the plane of polarization of glare, Land created the first pair of glare blocking sunglasses, "Polaroids".

Land quit Harvard to found his own company "Polaroid" to commercially exploit his sheet of polarizing plastic. Land was Polaroid's chief scientist and chief inventor. Using profits from Polaroid's product line, Land developed the science and technology of self-developing film, "the instant image", Polaroid's greatest product.

Land also had an entirely separate career from his business: He was central in developing the technology of the cameras used in the U2 supersonic, stratospheric surveillance aircraft. Edwin Land's career in spy planes is an example of a major cost of the Cold War--the diversion of a brilliant commercial/engineering mind into the War effort. Clarence Kelly of "Skunk Works" was another such individual. Such men are a fascinating measure of the spiritual wealth of the west ... and the cost of fighting its enemies.

For a brief timeline of Polaroid's history click here.

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