Polaroid founder Edwin H Land invented instant picture snapshot photography in 1948. For years the company worked on a home movie version.
The main challenge was to spread the potentially corrosive processing chemicals evenly along a long strip of film, and then make the film transparent to projector light and safe for users to handle. It was impractical to ask movie makers to peel off a transfer strip.
In 1977, Polaroid showed its shareholders the first samples of a working movie system. The home video market was beginning to explode so Polaroid had to move fast. Sales of Polavision began the next year. It was a brilliant technical achievement, but commercially too late.
For £400 the movie snapshooter got a camera and table-top viewer with 12in back projection screen. The camera took a cassette which held less than three minutes worth of silent colour film and cost more than a video cassette capable of recording three hours of colour pictures with sound.
The film remained sealed in the cassette, along with the chemicals. This made the system safe to sell but it meant there was no facility to edit. Of 3000 UK dealers originally contracted to sell the system, the list soon dwindled to 200, and many returned their stocks unsold.
By the end of 1979 dealers were cutting the system price by £100 and Polaroid ‘wrote down’ $68 million worth of unsold Polavision stock. Soon afterwards the company launched an 8mm video camcorder system, made in Japan but carrying the Polaroid name. That didn’t last long either.
The company also made the flat-profile batteries used by Sir Clive Sinclair’s ill-fated pocket TV sets. Whilst having no degree, Land’s 533 patents earned him the honorific title of Doctor.