The original Polaroid Corporation was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Edwin Land in 1937. Described by the Boston Globe as a "juggernaut of innovation", in many respects Polaroid was the Apple of its time with a "leader in Edwin Land, a scientist who guided the company as the founding CEO for four decades". Polaroid’s initial market was in polarized sunglasses — spawned from Land’s self-guided research in light polarization. Land, having completed his freshman year at Harvard University, left to pursue this market, resulting in Polaroid's birth. Land later returned to Harvard to continue his research. Polaroid, owning patents to its polarizer technology, got its start by employing polarization in products that included 3-D movies and glare-reducing goggles for dogs. During World War II, Polaroid designed and manufactured numerous products for the armed services including an infrared night viewing device. He led the company as CEO for 43 years, he headed the Polaroid Corporation, developing it from a small research and marketing firm into one of the best-known high-tech companies ever. Kodak was a customer for some of Land's polarizing products. Recognized by most as the father of instant photography, he included all the operations of a darkroom inside the film itself. Land was pictured on the cover of Life magazine in 1972 with the inscription, "A Genius and His Magic Camera".
When Kodak announced instant film cameras in 1976, Polaroid announced they were suing them, accusing Kodak of having stolen its patented instant photography process. In the two years that followed the lawsuit, total sales of instant cameras climbed from 7.4 million cameras in 1976 to 10.3 million in 1977 and 14.3 million in 1978. The suit in federal court lasted 10 years. Polaroid asked for $12 billion for infringements of its patents by Kodak. The court ruled in favor of Polaroid, and ordered Kodak to cease instant picture production, plus pay Polaroid $909.5 million of the $12 billion it had asked for.
In 1977, Land introduced the Polaroid Instant Home Movie camera named Polavision, based on the Dufaycolor process. However, the product arrived on the market when videotape-based systems were rapidly gaining popularity, thus it failed to sell well in retail stores and has been described as the swan song for Polaroid. After four decades as chairman, Edwin Land was coerced to resign and leave the corporation he had founded. He died in 1991. The Polavision debacle eventually caused the company to write off $89 million, including most of the manufactured products. The underlying technology of Polavision was later improved for use in the Polachrome instant slide film system.
In the 1980s, Polaroid tried to reinvent itself without Land at its helm by shifting away from a dependence on consumer photography, a market which was in steady decline. Polaroid was forced to make wholesale changes that included having to fire thousands of workers and close many factories. The 1990s saw the advent of new technologies that profoundly changed the world of photography — one-hour color film processing, single-use cameras from competitors, videotape camcorders, and digital cameras.
The company also was one of the early manufacturers of digital cameras, with the PDC-2000 in 1996; however, they failed to capture a large market share in that segment.
They also made 35 mm and multi format scanners, such as Polaroid SpiritScan 4000 35 mm scanner (the first scanner with a 4000 DPI CCD) in 1999, and the Polaroid PrintScan 120 in 2000. The scanners received mixed reviews and saw heavy competition from Nikon and Minolta products. The entire line was discontinued when Polaroid entered bankruptcy in 2001.
The original Polaroid Corporation filed for federal bankruptcy protection on October 11, 2001. The outcome was that within ten months, most of the business (including the "Polaroid" name itself and non-bankrupt foreign subsidiaries) had been sold to Bank One's One Equity Partners (OEP). OEP Imaging Corporation then changed its name to Polaroid Holding Company (PHC). However, this new company operates using the name of its bankrupt predecessor, Polaroid Corporation.
Significant criticism surrounded this "takeover" because the process left executives of the company with large bonuses, while stockholders, as well as current and retired employees, were left with nothing. The company announced a plan that gave the top 45 executives bonuses just for staying at their jobs. Meanwhile, other employees were restricted from selling their stock before leaving their jobs.
As part of the settlement, the original Polaroid Corporation changed its name to Primary PDC, Inc. Having sold its assets, it was now effectively nothing more than an administrative shell. Primary PDC received approximately 35 percent of the "new" Polaroid, which was to be distributed to its unsecured creditors (including bondholders). As of late 2006 Primary PDC remained in existence under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but conducts no commercial business and has no employees.
Polaroid’s bankruptcy is widely attributed to the failure of senior management — unable to anticipate the impact of digital cameras on its film business. This type of managerial failure is also known as the success trap.
After the bankruptcy, the Polaroid brand was licensed for use on other products with the assistance of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. In September 2002, World Wide Licenses, a subsidiary of The Character Group plc, was granted the exclusive rights for three years to manufacture and sell digital cameras under the Polaroid brand for distribution internationally. Polaroid branded LCDs and plasma televisions and portable DVD players had also appeared on the market.
On April 27, 2005, Petters Group Worldwide announced its acquisition of PHC. Petters has in the past bought up failed companies with well-known names for the value of those names. The same year, Flextronics purchased Polaroid's manufacturing operations and the decision was made to send most of the manufacturing to China. It stopped making Polaroid cameras in 2007 and discontinued the sale of Polaroid film after 2009 to the dismay of loyal consumers. On December 18, 2008, the post-reorganization Polaroid Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota. The bankruptcy filing came shortly after the criminal investigation of its parent company, Petters Group Worldwide, and the parent company founder, Tom Petters.
On April 2, 2009, Patriarch Partners won an auction for Polaroid Corporation's assets including the company's name, intellectual property, and photography collection. Patriarch's $59.1 million bid beat bids from PHC Acquisitions, Hilco Consumer Capital Corp and Ritchie Capital.
This led to some very contentious fighting and litigation, and Patriarch wound up walking away in early May, 2009, and a joint venture between Gordon Brothers Brands LLC and Hilco Consumer Capital LP picked up the pieces. Quoting from a Reuters report which quoted some participants:
The move by New York-based Patriarch, a private-equity firm, [to drop their claim], follows US District Judge James Rosenbaum's ruling on Thursday in Minneapolis that putting the purchase on hold during appeal would threaten operations at Polaroid, which is spending its cash at a rate of $3 million a month.
On April 16, 2009, Polaroid won US Bankruptcy Court approval to be sold to a joint venture of Hilco Consumer Capital LP of Toronto and Gordon Brothers Brands LLC of Boston.
Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers Brands announced the closing of the purchase of Polaroid Corporation on May 7, 2009 placing Polaroid Corporation in joint holding under a parent company named PLR IP Holdings, LLC. Former Executive Vice President and General Manager - Americas, Scott W. Hardy was named as the new President of Polaroid Corporation and PLR IP Holdings, LLC. The majority of employees remained in their positions at the company's Minnetonka, Minnesota headquarters as well as office locations in Boston, New York and Toronto.
On June 19, 2009, the new holding corporation for Polaroid, PLR IP Holdings, LLC announced an exclusive 5-year agreement with Summit Global Group to produce and distribute Polaroid branded digital still cameras, digital video cameras, digital photo frames and PoGo branded mobile products. Summit Global Group added several former Polaroid employees to their staff. The company expects the agreement to yield $1.3 billion in retail sales over an unspecified period beginning in 2009.
On January 5, 2010, Polaroid appointed Lady Gaga as "Creative Director" for the company. A press release stated that she would be the "new face" of Polaroid.
In the 1990s, Polaroid was involved in corporate sponsorship of NASCAR. For several years, Polaroid was the principal sponsor of NASCAR's 125 mile Featherlite Modified race at Watkins Glen and it was called the "Polaroid 125". The Polaroid name was also used in sponsorship in the NASCAR Busch Series. In 1992, Polaroid was the principal sponsor of female NASCAR driver Shawna Robinson's #25 Oldsmobile in the Busch Series. They continued as her principal sponsor when she moved to the other car numbers in 1993 and 1994.
Polaroid formerly sponsored the Target Chip Ganassi entry of Juan Pablo Montoya's #42 Chevy Impala in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and entries in the IRL Indy Car Series, including the car driven by Dario Franchitti.
The Polaroid name has also been associated with the NOPI drift series. Polaroid was the principal sponsor of the Nissan 350Z driven by Nick Bollea in the 2007 season.
On February 8, 2008, Polaroid (under the control of Thomas J. Petters of Petters Group Worldwide) announced that the company has decided to gradually cease production and withdraw from analog instant film products completely in 2008. Since March 2010, instant film materials for vintage Polaroid cameras have again become available on the market, developed and manufactured by a group called The Impossible Project, at the former Polaroid production plant in Enschede, Netherlands.
Austrian photographer Florian Kaps, the owner of the largest online vendor for SX-70 films and organizer of the web-based instant photo gallery Polanoid.net, had bought the approximately 500,000 film packages that were on stock. He teamed with André Bosman, a former head of film production in the large Polaroid film factory at Enschede, designed a plan to redesign the SX-70/600 film system in collaboration with Ilford Photo, and convinced the Polaroid owners to participate. Plans for a relaunch under the Impossible label were announced in January 2009. Buildings in the Enschede plant, which had produced 30 million film packs in 2007 and 24 million in the first half of 2008, were leased to the company created by Kaps, who by May 2009 had raised $2.6 million from friends and family for what he had named The Impossible Project.
On March 22, 2010, The Impossible Project announced the release of two monochromatic films, PX100 and PX600, compatible with SX-70 and 600 type cameras, respectively. Color films were initially released in 2010 for SX-70 type cameras, followed in 2011 with the release of much improved color films for Polaroid 600, SX-70 and Spectra Cameras.
Polaroid had originally announced a new camera, styled after older models to coincide with the new films, but this was due before Christmas 2010—a deadline which passed with no new information on this new camera.
On April 28, 2012 the documentary "Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film", directed by Grant Hamilton, was released in the U.S. It covers the rise, fall, and grass-roots revival of Polaroid's instant film technology.
In summer 2008 Polaroid released the PoGo, an instant photo printer producing 2 by 3 inches (51 mm × 76 mm) prints. It uses the Zink ("zero ink") technology which is similar to dye sublimation but has the dye crystals embedded in the photo paper itself. Models CZA-10011B and CZA-20011B exist (which Polaroid claim to be identical).
In 2009, the CZA-05300B PoGo, a 5 megapixel digital camera integrated with a Zink printer, was released.
In 2011, the company released the Polaroid GL10 Instant Mobile Printer producing 3 by 4 inch prints. The printer, designed by Polaroid and Lady Gaga, allows people to print directly from a mobile phone or digital camera. This product is the first product in the new Polaroid Grey Label line.
Polaroid released a line of cameras without printers including the t1035, a 10-megapixel digital camera.
In January 2012, Polaroid announced a new "smart camera", entitled the Polaroid SC1630 smart camera, which is powered by Google Android. The SC1630 is a combination of a camera and a portable media player, that allows users to take photos with a built-in 16 MP HD camera, download apps from Google Play, check their email, and browse the web. The built-in camera allows 3X optical zoom. Other features on the media player include wi-fi, touch screen, geotagging, smart albums, and 32 GB of memory via a micro SD card.
In September 2014 Polaroid introduced a $99 action camera named the "Polaroid Cube", marketed as an alternative to cameras such as the GoPro Hero (which retails for $129), specifically for casual, light users of action camcorders. In 2015 GoPro released the similar GoPro HERO4 Session.
In March 2006, the specialist design and development department in Polaroid's Vale of Leven plant in Scotland was bought out by its management team. Known as Wideblue the company specializes in helping small technology based companies develop products and manufacturing processes.
In 2014 Wideblue were hired to design the Impossible Project mass market instant camera.