October 1994

Quick Turnaround on Night Goggles

Louis Rosenblum

Edwin Land had a flair for solving complex problems. He enjoyed creating elegant and inexpensive devices, in remarkably short times and at modest development prices, for a wide range of military problems in World War II. From 1940 until the end of 1945, the Polaroid Corp. concentrated almost all of its research, engineering, and manufacturing operations on products used by the Navy, Army, Air Corps, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and their counterparts in the Allied Military Forces.

Only Once in a Blue Moon

Happening "only once in a blue moon" is the stereotype of rarity. Yet, if you ask people about the significance of the blue moon, the most common answer (if there's any answer) involves a definition that we attribute to astronomers. This is a definition of the blue moon as the second full moon in any calendar month. How often does that happen? If you do a simple calculation you find that, with this definition, you have a blue moon every two or three years—not of the rarity suggested by the common use. Furthermore, this definition gives no insight into the color blue. Our claim is that this is a trivial definition, hijacked from a much rarer optical effect that gives the moon (or sun) a blue appearance.

Polarizers, Torpedoes, and Bombs

In June 1940 I was between my second and third year of work toward a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard and a friend suggested that I might find summer work at Polaroid. I made an appointment for an interview and, to my astonishment, the interviewer was Edwin H. Land. We talked for two hours; it was less of an interview than a discussion by Land of his hopes for the future of Polaroid. At this moment in time the U.S. was not involved in the war in Europe and Land was pursuing polarizers that would eliminate the glare of headlights from oncoming automobiles. Almost as an afterthought to the discussion, he offered me a summer job at $35 per week.

Good Cheap Camera Filters

Early in the war, Edwin Land realized that color filters for aerial cameras could not be economically produced using conventional methods. The cameras required a Metrogon lens that covered a 93° field at f/6.3 and a yellow or red filter about six inches in diameter, having only a few wavelengths of error from flat. Such a filter often improves contrast by cutting out the light scattered by haze which is predominately blue.

Digging for the Bomb

In 1944 it became my privilege to participate in the creation of Edwin (Din) Land's largest wartime project and the creation of a team that eventually became at least as large as the entire research/engineering staff in 1942, when I joined Polaroid. The project began in typical Land fashion. Din pondered a key question: Why do bombs dropped from level flight at high altitude almost always miss the target even as large as a capital ship?

Din Land: Patriot From Polaroid

With the advent of the "Cold War," Din Land served his nation individually and with even greater secrecy than he did during World War II. Land did not invent the devices that made our nation the true superpower of the Cold War. Instead, he recognized in their infancy those technologies important to our national security and spent a great deal of time, energy, and his own money urging our nation's leaders to fund such developments. His service to his nation spanned nearly three decades. In all that time Din Land remained out of the limelight, which, considering his penchant for the dramatic might seem, at first, most unusual.

Impressions of Edwin H. Land

worked with Din Land for more than a decade as a consultant to the Office of Science & Technology, a two-term member of the President's Science Advisory Committee, and a member of the "Land Panel," which reported to the President's Science Advisor (for Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon), and through him to the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence. My impressions of Din Land in those post-U-2 years were formed mainly through my interaction with him as a member of the Land Panel.

The Vision and Color World of Edwin Land

During the late 1950s and early 1960s Edwin Land challenged the color vision establishment by describing a series of experiments with colored images that he claimed called for a broad rethinking of previously held theories of color perception. Given his fame as the widely known inventor of instant photography, his skill with dramatic lecture demonstrations and the personal drive with which he championed any new creative enterprise, it was not surprising that interest in the work would quickly spread throughout the scientific community and even beyond to national coverage in both the scientific and popular press.

Land's Chemical, Physical, and Psychophysical Images

No man in history can surpass Edwin Land as the Maker of Imaging Systems. During his entire life Land was fascinated with the "interaction of light and matter." The constant theme throughout his 535 patents is new ways to make images. That theme holds equally well for all three major areas of Land's research—polarizers, photography, and human color vision—and even in the areas of public service for the United States.

Color Television at Polaroid

No man in history can surpass Edwin Land as the Maker of Imaging Systems. During his entire life Land was fascinated with the "interaction of light and matter." The constant theme throughout his 535 patents is new ways to make images. That theme holds equally well for all three major areas of Land's research—polarizers, photography, and human color vision—and even in the areas of public service for the United States.

Leaving No Stone Unturned

Shortly after the Polavision instant 8-mm color movie product was introduced in the late 1970s, there was a clamor to add sound-recording and playback capability. We were restricted by two technical issues that were unusual in the industry. First, our 8-mm film was kept in a sealed cassette that was never opened during exposure, processing, and projection and offered no apparent access for a recording head. Second, our relatively stiff polyester film base would not readily conform to the shape of a magnetic head to provide the tight clearances needed for quality sound reproduction.

Edwin Land, 3-D, and Holography

Over the past 160 years or so, our society has harbored a sub-culture of people so obsessed by a vision of practical three-dimensional image communication that I refer to them as "stereopaths." For most of the 20th century, Edwin Land was the undisputed "king of the stereopaths," which laid the background for his activity in holography. He recalled a childhood replete with stereoscopes and impressive viewcards; his favorites were of grottoes.1 Although his company was founded to pursue the applications of polarizers to night-time automobile safety, the first applications that he actually demonstrated were to 3-D photography, both still and moving, in 1935.

The SX-70 Camera: The Optics

Late in 1969 our new optical engineering group at Polaroid, under Dick Weeks, was testing the prototype taking lenses for a new kind of instant camera, planned to fit in a pocket like a flat cigar case, hinge open with a four-bar linkage, and take full-sized pictures. I had just arrived at Polaroid and was occupied with computing the field-tilt sensitivities within Jim Baker's four-element taking lens.1 Some members of the group were struggling to devise an effective viewfinder that could be used to focus and frame subjects within one foot.

Dr. Land's SX-70 Camera: A Brief

The SX-70 camera was created by one of America's successful corporations but in a rare manner. There was no managerial structure supervising the diverse groups involved. There were no written specifications that had to be accomplished. There was never any scheduled plan for when any task had to be completed. Yet one person, knowledgeable in every field involved, orchestrated this endeavor by challenging the available technology and the ingenuity of the many persons involved and expanding the boundaries of both. That person was Dr. Edwin H. Land.

Edwin Land: Champion of Patents

Land's relationship with the patent system began shortly after he entered Harvard. While walking in Times Square one night, he conceived the idea that light polarizers could control glare from automobile headlights. Because of an interest in television, Land had already read quite a bit about light polarizers while still in high school. Now he began an in-depth study of the literature, coupled with an effort to make light polarizers large enough to do this job.

Working with Edwin Land

When I first joined Polaroid in 1946, I worked on the second floor of an unglamorous brick building with a huge worn-looking, white-on-black sign painted on its wall, saying, "Kaplan Furniture Company, Mfrs. of Colonial Reproductions." This was mostly occupied by the SX-70 lab. Almost nobody in the company outside the lab group knew what SX-70 meant. The first tantalizing hint was given at the 1946 company Christmas party. After a stirring rendition of the famous Trumpet Voluntary by a Boston Symphony musician, followed by a speech by Land about the company's prospects for the coming year, suddenly a movie clip from "The Horn Blows at Midnight" flashed on the screen.

Other content is not available for issues prior to 2002. Please contact opn@osa.org to request specific articles.

Recent Issues

September 2021 September 2021
July/August 2021 July/August 2021
June 2021 June 2021

Share this Article