Skip to main content

Polaroid Donates Corporate Archives to Harvard

Polaroid Donates Corporate Archives to Harvard

Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

November 7, 2006 – Polaroid Corp. announced last month the instant film and electronics manufacturer donated 1.5 million items of their corporate archives to the Harvard Business School Baker Library (HBS), according to an Oct. 24 Polaroid press release.   The Polaroid collection is the single largest collection at the Harvard Business School Library.  If all the shelves that house the Polaroid archives were placed next to each other, the collection would measure 4000 linear feet, equivalent to over 13 football fields. history after Thomas Edison. The Polaroid archive also includes artifacts such as military goggles, sunglasses, early camera models, and sample instant photographs.  Nearly 70 years since the company was founded in 1937, the Polaroid documents are returning to its roots in Harvard.  Although other contenders for the collection included the Smithsonian Institution and MIT, Polaroid elected to donate the archives to Harvard’s library.In fact, Polaroid founder Edwin Land was a Harvard student, although the inventor left the university as a freshman to pursue the development of the polarizer, the basis for instant film and other optical devices.

Polaroid Land camera, the Model 95, which currently sits next to a Type 40 film with the expiration date of November 1950.  Among the extensive collection are training kits of 3D Polaroid glasses designed for the U.S. Navy during WWII, manuscripts from a lawsuit between Polaroid and Eastman Kodak Company in the 1970s, and project files of the original SX-70 instant film. 

Because of the enormity of the collection, organizing and preserving the full collection may take several years.Harvard started to receive the collection back in April, hauled by moving trucks."You can’t just box it up," said Harvard Business School Manuscripts Librarian Tim Mahoney.The Polaroid archives are gradually being recorded as inventory and transferred to acid-free archival folders and boxes. 

Waltham, MA.Perhaps the greatest concern for the archivists is to preserve the condition of the collection and prevent chemical deterioration.  

"It’s such a complete record," said Mahoney about the school’s interest in the corporate collection.The collection chronicles the history of the American company from its rise in 1937 to its fall five years ago when the company declared bankruptcy. 

"At a certain point, Polaroid was the company to work for," said the Director of Historical Collections at Harvard Business School Laura Linard.  "People worked for Polaroid for their entire lives," she said. 

Polaroid, is most noted for its instant film and cameras, but it also makes portable DVD players, plasma and LCD TVs, and digital cameras.In 2001, the company faced dark times after filing for bankruptcy.Since then, Polaroid Holding Company was acquired by Petters Group Worldwide in a unanimous Board of Directors vote last year, changing over from a public company to a privately held subsidiary, according to a Polaroid press release. 

The collection is currently stored in a climate-controlled room at the Harvard Baker Library at a cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 50

percent humidity. It is backed by a team at the Harvard University Library conservation laboratory.The conservation lab will assess the condition of the records and artifacts including evaluating 16mm film from the 1930s that may contain flammable nitrate, although it is unlikely the records are hazardous, according to Mahoney.

Related content

The Harvard Baker Library, which has not opened its collection to the public, has already received telephone calls from interested parties."It has generated interest because it covers so many areas," said Laura Linard.The Polaroid collection includes a "wide variety of interests from art history to photo history to business history," said Mahoney.

Portions of the Polaroid collection will be open to the research public in the summer of 2007, and other portions will continue to be released in series over the next few years.

Up next