The Original Instagram

If Edwin Land were alive today (he died in 1991), he would no doubt be amused that we use our phones to take pictures. But he probably wouldn’t be surprised. After all, the inventor and cofounder of Polaroid imagined a future very much like today. As Christopher Bonanos, author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid, reveals in a Wall Street Journal adaptation:

“We are still a long way,” [Land] said, “from the … camera that would be, oh, like the telephone: something that you use all day long … a camera which you would use not on the occasion of parties only, or of trips only, or when your grandchildren came to see you, but a camera that you would use as often as your pencil or your eyeglasses.” It was going to be “something that was always with you,” he said; and it would be effortless. Point, shoot, see. Nothing mechanical would come between you and the image you wanted. The gesture would be as simple as—and here he demonstrated it, reaching into his coat—taking a wallet out of your breast pocket, holding it up and pressing a button.

Land was explaining this to a camera crew in 1970. His invention not only changed when we took photos but how many photos we took: “The first batch of cameras, expected to meet consumer demand for weeks, sold out in hours,” Bonanos writes. “By the 1970s, when Polaroid introduced the SX-70 camera and became an ubiquitous part of the American landscape, a new breed of amateur photographer was shooting a billion photos a year.”

Photo of SX-70 by Martin Taylor

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