History of the Polaroid Camera

Polaroid Land CameraThe things that you grew up with, and look back upon with nostalgia, are probably foreign objects to your children. The games you played outside with the kids in your neighborhood have been replaced by video games (played with kids across the world). Today, teens get out their smartphones so they can take “selfies”. They might not quite understand why the polaroid camera was once considered to be cool.

The younger generations in your family tree have never experienced photography that was not digital. They’ve never had the experience of trying to load film into a camera (and hoping that it was put in correctly). The devices people use today can take thousands of digital photos. That’s a big change from when we had to count how many photos we had left and hope to find somewhere that sold the right film when we ran out.

There was a time, as many of us remember, when the Polaroid was the best way to take candid photos of friends and families. One thing that made the Polaroid camera so special was that you didn’t have to wait very long to see how the photo came out. In just a few minutes, the film would develop itself before our eyes. It was a wonderful piece of photo technology for those of us who recall having to send film in to be developed and then waiting weeks to see how the photos turned out.

People would pick up the photo and waft it back and forth like a fan assuming that this would make it develop faster. I’m not sure if there was any truth to that, but many people did it anyway.

There is a song called “Hey Ya”, by the band Outkast, which includes the lyric: “shake it like a Polaroid picture”. Those of use who actually did shake their Polaroid pictures look back on that experience with nostalgia. I suspect younger generations are somewhat confused by the lyric.

The history of the Polaroid camera starts with Edwin H. Land, founder of Polaroid. In 1943, his three year old daughter asked him why she can’t see the photo he had just taken of her. In 1947, he gave the very first demonstration of the instant camera. By 1956, over one-million Polaroid cameras had been produced and sold.

In 1972, Polaroid introduced the SX-70 Land camera. IT was the first fully-automatic, motorized, and folding camera with instant color prints. It became extremely popular. One year later, Polaroid was producing 5,000 of these cameras a day. In 1977, the Polaroid OneStep debuted. It was now even easier to take a Polaroid photo of your vacation.

Genealogists should take the time to dig up their old Polaroid photos. The special things about these photos was they were often taken on the spur of the moment, and this resulted in many candid shots.

Teach the younger generations of your family what a Polaroid photo is, and talk about the vacation you were on when those photos were taken. Doing so is a great way to pass along family stories! Decades from now, the young people of today will be teaching their grandkids about what a “selfie” was and explaining why they felt the need to take so many of them!

Image by Fallen Angel / Angel Caido on Flickr.

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* How to Recreate an Old Family Photo

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