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Mss:658 1905-2005 P762 I

Polaroid Corporation. Polaroid Corporation Records, Series I: Administrative Records, circa 1930-2005 (inclusive): A Finding Aid

Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

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Harvard Business School, Boston MA 02163.

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: Mss:658 1905-2005 P762 I
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Creator: Polaroid Corporation.
Title: Polaroid Corporation records, series I: administrative records
Date(s): 1930-2005
Quantity: 220 linear feet (28 volumes, 418 boxes)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: This series of the Polaroid Corporation records contains the company's administrative records, circa 1930 to 2005. Included are corporate governance and leadership records, 1953-1995; public relations and communications records, 1937-2005; and human resources and personnel management records, 1940-1996.

Provenance:

Gift of Polaroid Corporation, 2006.

Processing Information:

Processed: June 2012
By: Timothy Mahoney, Laura Williams, and Danielle Hubing.
Due to the large physical size of the Polaroid Corporation records, similar records that are related as a result of being created, received, or used in the same activity have been grouped into series and an individual finding aid created for each. Each series has been assigned a roman numeral which is found in the series title and precedes all container identifiers. The order of the series does not reflect the original arrangement of the entire collection. Researchers should take care to note the full item number when requesting or citing Polaroid Corporation collection materials.

Conditions Governing Access:

Some material may be stored offsite. Please contact histcollref@hbs.edu for more information.

Preferred Citation:

Cite as: Polaroid Corporation Administrative Records. Baker Library Historical Collections. Harvard Business School.

Related Materials

The Polaroid Corporation Records are comprised of the company's original corporate archives, donated to Harvard Business School in 2006. The collection is arranged into different series based on format or function. In addition to the Polaroid Corporation records, series I: administrative records, the following series are open for research use: Polaroid Corporation records, series II: legal and patent records, circa 1905-1995, Polaroid Corporation records, series III: research and development records, 1905-2000 (inclusive), 1930-1985 (bulk), Polaroid Corporation records related to Edwin H. Land, series V, 1927-1995. Researchers should note that there is considerable overlap in the subject matter contained in the various series, and are advised to search across all of the series finding aids for specific subjects or records.

Historical Note:

The Polaroid Corporation was an iconic, 20th century company whose pioneering achievements in optics and engineering continue to have technological, social and artistic significance. The beginnings of the Polaroid Corporation can be traced to Edwin H. Land's breakthrough research on polarizers. After a leave of absence from Harvard College in 1926 to study the development of a synthetic light-polarizing material, Land returned to Harvard in 1929 and continued his research in the Harvard Physics Department. There he met physics instructor George W. Wheelwright III, who provided Land with a laboratory to conduct his research. In 1932, Land presented a paper on his synthetic polarizing materials and Wheelwright convinced him to leave college before graduating to start a company together. Land-Wheelwright Laboratories was formed in 1933 and Land received his first of many patents for "Polarizing Refracting Bodies."
Over the next several years Land and Wheelwright set up operations to manufacture an inexpensive plastic sheet polarizer. At the end of 1935, the first advertisement of the material appeared in a scientific journal, followed by a public announcement in New York. Demand for the product grew quickly and in 1937, Land-Wheelwright Laboratories was reincorporated as the Polaroid Corporation. Wheelwright left the company in the early 1940s, but stayed on as a member of the Board of Directors until 1948.
Following the outbreak of World War II, the company's activities were largely directed to invention, development and manufacture of war products, materials and devices. Research projects were conducted under direct contracts with Navy Bureaus, the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and other agencies of the government. During this time, the number of employees increased from 200 to a wartime peak of 1,250. After the war ended, Polaroid was faced with a reconversion task of considerable magnitude which brought new organizational and technical skills gained from its wartime experience. In addition to Polaroid Day Glasses and Polarscreen Camera filters, uses for Polaroid polarized materials included glare-free lamps and airplane windows. Strong sales enabled the company to fund further research and development in other areas including 3-D motion picture film, vectographs, and the subsequent breakthrough with instant photography in 1947.
Land's landmark introduction of the concept of instant photography at a meeting of the Optical Society of America in New York City instantly changed photography and the company itself. In 1948, the Polaroid Land Camera, Model 95, and Land film, Type 40 was introduced to the public and through orchestrated marketing was a sellout. Edwin Land remained dedicated to creating a transformative photographic process and over the next three decades Polaroid developed dozens of new cameras, films, and products. Major innovations from the 1950s to the 1970s included the Polaroid Transparency System (1957), ID-2 Identification System (1966), the SX-70 (1972), and the Polavision Land System (1978).
During this time Land also approached the welfare of his employees in deeply humanistic ways, creating a culture of innovation and exploration within Polaroid that spurred research and innovation. He tapped into the talented pool of researchers at Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Smith College, and routinely employed women in top-level research positions, an unusual practice at the time.
After Land left the company in 1982, Polaroid continued to develop new products for various markets. In 2001, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy protection and the brand name continues to be used to license and market various electronics.

Scope and Content Note:

The Polaroid Corporation administrative records document the management and operation of the company from the 1930s to its bankruptcy in the 2000s. The records are arranged in three series: IA. Corporate governance and leadership records, 1953-1995; IB. Public relations and communications records, 1937-2005; and IC. Human resources and personnel management records, 1940-1996.
Series IA contains records of Polaroid's corporate governance and leadership, 1953-1995. These include records of the board of directors and the Operating Policy Committee, and annual meeting and stockholders records; and records about Polaroid's executive leadership, including biographical information and notices of promotions and hirings.
Series IB contains records of Polaroid's public relations and communications activities from 1937 to 2005. These records include publicity files, product information files, press releases, press clippings and publications featuring Polaroid products. The series contains a vast amount of material concerning Polaroid's products and services. The publicity files and product information files in particular contain a wealth of Polaroid product and advertising materials dating from the 1930s to the 2000s.
Series IC contains Polaroid's personnel management and human resource records. The series contains extensive information about worklife and labor-management relations at Polaroid. These include the records of Polaroid's Employees Committee and its various personnel management committees, as well as documentation of the interactions between the two groups from the 1940s to 1990s. Also, there are extensive subject files on human resources topics, containing information about Polaroid policies, benefits, job classifications, etc., 1940s to 1990s. The series contains information about Project Focus, a 1980s Polaroid-wide employee survey, and a set of Polaroid internal telephone directories, 1957-1987.

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