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Polaroid’s SX-70 instant camera turns 50

Ponzi Scheme

Polaroid’s SX-70 instant camera turns 50

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Fifty years ago today, photography changed forever. The 3,000-something people assembled at a Polaroid warehouse in Needham, Massachusetts were the first to hear the news—from Polaroid founder/president/resident genius Edwin H. Land himself, who declared it to be a turning point for the medium.

Land was presiding over Polaroid’s annual meeting on April 25, 1972, and the change he was talking about came in the form of the company’s newest instant camera. It was indeed a transformative advance on the company’s existing products.

Polaroid founder/president Edwin Land shows off the SX-70–and a Polaroid of himself—in November, 1972 [Photo: Joyce Dopkeen/New York Times Co./Getty Images]

The camera in question was eventually named the SX-70, though that was just a code name in April 1972; Land told his audience it might be called “The American.” I have called it the greatest gadget of all time and once wrote a 14,000-word article making that case. You are free to disagree. But it was packed with innovations—many of which were the result of Land’s own brainstorms and breakthroughs—and they spanned chemistry, mechanical engineering, and electronics in a way that has no modern counterpart.

Among the SX-70’s wonders is its enduring resonance. Analog instant photography once appeared to have been rendered hopelessly obsolete by digital photography. Yet it’s alive and well in 2022. Millions of people are taking photos with vintage Polaroid cameras, modern Polaroid…

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