Polaroid and Darwin

Not even Jim Garner could save it in the end…

2007 marks the 70th anniversary of Polaroid.

70th anniversary, if they were still in business.

They aren’t. They filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

(See the details of their bankruptcy filing and subsequent reorganization below in the ‘Comments’ section).

Which is too bad, but a great object lesson in the power of technology.

Anyone who is old enough (and that is getting pretty old these days) will remember the absolute magic of seeing an ‘instant’ photograph appear when pulled from the back of a Polaroid Land camera (named for Edwin Land, the company’s founder).

In a time when we all sent our rolls of film off to be processed, and waited days or weeks for the prints to come back, notion of ‘instant photography’ was truly amazing.

Polaroid stock was a hot ticket in the 60s and 70s. Hard to believe now, but the company was once the ‘google’ or its time (or perhaps Yahoo would be closer).

It was a company made by technology.

And as it was made by technology, so it was destroyed by technology as well.

When digital photography first surfaced in the 1980s, Polaroid made a conscious decision to stick to its instant print – chemical – mechanical technology.

It was a mistake that cost the company its life.

From being the dominant powerhouse of instant photography it rapidly became worthless. Not because of anything they did; rather because of what management did not do. They did not embrace new technology – even if that new technology meant overturning everything they knew, and everything that had been the very foundation of Polaroid until then.

It was too unsettling. Too upsetting. Too traumatic.

“Survival belongs not to the strongest or the swiftest, but rather to those who adapt fastest to change” wrote Charles Darwin.

In the world of business, and in the jungle, the competition for survival is ruthless and final.


25 responses to “Polaroid and Darwin

  1. Please feel free to visit http://www.polaroid.com/us/index.jsp?co=us&bmLocale=en_US

    You will find the company is still in business despite what is printed above.

  2. Actually, the company is not in business, despite what is written just above. The name was licensed as part of the bankruptcy settlement, however:

    “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[4] 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).[5][6] However, this new company operates using the name of its bankrupt predecessor, Polaroid Corporation.[2]

    As part of the settlement, the original Polaroid Corporation changed its name to Primary PDC, Inc.[5][3] 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[5] (including bondholders.[7]) As of late 2006, Primary PDC remains in existence under Chapter 11 protection, but conducts no commercial business and has no employees.[6]”
    – courtesy, Wikipedia

    or, as Darwin himself might have said, ‘deader than a dodo”.

  3. As usual, Wikipedia is wrong.

    They even still sell those instant cameras.


    Same name. Same camera, among other things. Just different owners. The company lives.

    In fact they are doing what many comapnies are doing and advancing with the technology offering digital equipment as well as producing a product which still has buyers.

    I guess Mr. Rosenblum would claim Ford Motor Company is dead as well since Henry Ford is dead and the original owner is no longer running things.

  4. For a company with “no employees” they certainly have someone running their web site and lots of “news’ about their “dead” business.


  5. No.
    I don’t think Ford has gone Chapter 11 – at least not yet….

    The Polaroid name may still be in use and they may make product, but it is hardly the same company.

    Pan Am, which went chapter 11 several years ago also auctioned off its name – in this case to Boston-Maine Airways (I think). They still fly planes, but it is not, really , Pan Am.

  6. You might want to check out
    They are still in business and flying planes.. and according to their website, you can get from Elmira NY to Portsmouth NH with only one connection in Bedford, Ma. It’s definitely Pan Am and it’s definitely an airline.. but Pan Am, it ain’t.. it you know what I mean.

  7. Mr. $, here I will back up Michael. The group that bought the Polaroid name bought just that – the name. With the old assets, they formed a new corporation they call “Polaroid,” but it is a new corporation.

    This is distinctly different than selling a company to another party. Everyone at Polaroid lost their jobs as the company went Ch. 11 and sold its assets.

    The original Polaroid does not exist anymore. (Just ask those who depended on retirement money.) The name is now put on products the “company” does not manufacture.

    Debate Michael on lots of stuff here, by all means. But the facts on this one are accurate.

  8. As I originally stole this idea from Steve Safran,(or was inspired by), who founded and runs Lostremote.com, I really appreciate his comments.

  9. As I often steal jokes from Michael, I’m honored to have this story shared here.

  10. Michael I know that you like to bring up these pieces of information to make your point, but the story of Polaroid goes much deeper than that and its decline wasn’t a direct cause of digital cameras. The death of Polaroid can be blamed more on the entire US imaging industry that got caught with its pants down when it came to imaging technology. With the exception of RCA in the early years of television and perhaps some other insignificant name there were no dominating video cameras made in this country, the blame rest with the government and with US industries that chosen the cheap short term solution of importing more profitable than investing into R&D for the future. We are repeating the same mistake with China. We have become a nation of services; we are selling each other insurance, investments and suing each other. Success today means having the best lawyers rather than the best engineers. Another sign of danger for our future is that for the first time in the industrial history of the world students graduating from US schools are falling behind other industrialized country on basic academic subject such as math and science.

    The decline of Polaroid began long before the popularity of digital camera. If you want to go deep into the problem the entire worldwide photographic industry’s trouble began with the introduction of the first consumer video camera in the late 70s early 80s. Affordable digital cameras were not introduced until early 90s and are direct offspring of the video camera technology. In the 80s digital cameras cost as much as $25,000 and were only for professional photography, not very good results back then even at those prices, those were not the Polaroid competitors.

    Speed, the reason that made Polaroid successful it also turned out to be its worst enemy and that’s what started its downfall. In 1980 Noritsu of Japan introduced the first one hour developing system; suddenly the public no longer had to wait one week for see their pictures. Polaroid instant imaging began losing its appeal with the consumer. Also the cost of developing a roll of film was half of the equivalent number of Polaroid prints. Even venerable Kodak began having problems; their line of expensive developing equipment became paperweight overnight. Kodak joined forces with a Japanese manufacturer to come up with their own one hour developing system but that failed too mainly because they rushed to market untested products resulting in many lawsuits that they had to settle with clients, Noritsu also introduced enlargement equipment that could give consumers enlargements up to 11×14 in 30 minutes, Polaroid couldn’t do that because it did not have a negative.

    Continuing with the same cycle, digital cameras is what caused the decline of the one hour labs as well as the death of established companies like Agfa and contributed to some major problem with Kodak who also initially did not take digital imaging seriously and has been playing catch-up ever since. Of course it was the last nail on the coffin for Polaroid.

    That was really nothing that Polaroid could have done to prevent its decline other than invest and diversify in new technology that had nothing to do with what Polaroid was all about it. That was a timely death of a product that had lived its course. The real problem with Polaroid was that they basically had one product and nothing to fall back, Unlike Kodak who was/is more diversified and can easily absorb the decline of one single of their products.

    If you look back in the 80s you’ll see the Polaroid issue was widespread among every industry worldwide, not just the imaging industry. This is when the largest number of mergers and acquisitions took place caused by the fear that in order to survive businesses could no longer rely on a single product but needed to diversify.

  11. So let’s add to your list of failed companies that are now “dead”.

    Continental Airlines
    This list can go on and on. All companies which had financial difficulties yet remain in business.

    Both of you show why reading blogs and thinking of them as “fact” is the same as considering Wikipedia a reliable source of accurate information.

    Polaroid lives and still has employees.

    For you both to claim otherwise illustrates your need to twist “facts” into falsehoods for your own misguided ends.

  12. Having financial problems and restructuring, taking a government loan or merging is very different from completely going out of business and then selling the name off to someone else to use.

  13. As much as I hate to side with Michael, often the name recognition and logo is worth more than the actual value of the company itself. To satisfy creditors under a bankruptcy procedure everything with value will be sold, name included if it has any monetary value. A company that buys a reputable and established business name will have much easier time getting themselves established. Name recognition is very important in business. Polaroid was a very respected name across the globe and reputation is a valuable asset. Unfortunately the new generation has no clue of what Polaroid was or did.

    I remember years ago the name Malboro was the most valuable business name in commercial history being valued close to a billion $ without any other assets attached but just the name.

    TWA is also still in business, as a small pilot training school in Miami (small training school for big planes not tiny pilots).

    Personally, I didn’t even know that Polaroid was still in business, any business. It just happen that few weeks ago the TV/Monitor combo DVD player on my desk decided to quit on me. I went to Circuit City to find a cheap replacement and I did not realized until I got home that I bought a Polaroid LCD. It brought back memories, it has been at least 20 years since I bought something made by Polaroid.
    My second surprise was that it was also a HD monitor, the very first one in my house, we don’t get to watch much TV. What a difference, this Xmas I’ll ask Santa for a 42″ (or larger) LCD, something better than this Polaroid.

  14. Well, if Nino says so then it must be true.

    He’s never wrong is he?

    I didn’t realize a company could only make one product and then, after financial restructuring or a change of ownership, or both, they were considered dead if they stayed in business selling other products.

    I guess that means CBS died a long time ago too.

    There’s a softball for you to hit Mr. Rosenblum.

  15. Unless I missed something, I was not aware that CBS had gone bankrupt (unless you mean morally, ethically or creatively).

  16. It is not a matter of being right or wrong. A company is more than just a name, is people and products. The name Polaroid exemplified pure American ingenuity in a post WWII era. It was a unique product that was never duplicated and lived its course. Like a successful baseball player who at the end of his career has his number retired, I would have preferred if the name Polaroid would be retired too and become part of industrial history, something that it was deprived by still being used. Polaroid today is a brand name that signifies absolutely nothing. It doesn’t produce, create or manufacture anything, it’s a drop in the bucket of a conglomerate that represents over 60 names worldwide and nothing more than a name that distributes products made by somebody else and branded with the name Polaroid.

    Let me put it in a ways that will create a lot of controversy here, it would be like putting a person that you have admired for years because of his talent, success and name recognition, then one day you find out that in order to make ends meet this incredible talent is reduced to teaching consumers how to hold a camera

  17. I thought you teach pros.

  18. Michael, I once took my wife shopping on Rodeo Drive, of course I took her at 11 o’clock at night when everything was close, but we did some serious window shopping. In a window of one of those stores there was a small sign that said: ”For those who can afford it”. So let talks about the real democratization of videos, I really don’t know those that are benefiting from what I teach, over 100,000 of them returning to my site over 4 millions times, could be pros, consumers or whatever. All I know is that it’s not like that sign that says ”For those who can afford it”, they don’t have to dish out $2500, now that’s true democratization not just talk.

    And I’m sure you know who and what I’m talking about, it’s about making a choice between fame and ideology or financial stability. It appears that in your teaching the two don’t go well together.

  19. Nino,
    No one buys retail.
    Next time you are in Italy, take your wife to the town of Montevarchi. There you will find discount outlets for Prada, Armani, Miu Miu, Gucci…every big name you will find on Rodeo Drive, except with discounts of up to 70 percent. No kidding.

    In this life you get what you pay for…but you have to know where to shop.

  20. Michael, this is Florida and I’m a working guy, dressing up here means a collar shirts and better shorts, Target is our target and discount outlets when we feel like splurging.

  21. No, CBS did not go bankrupt, though there was a time not too long ago, two owners back, where there was some fear that just might happen.

    Of course the change of ownership, several times must make it a “dead” company, and not the same as before, according to your definition.

    Polaroid still makes and sells their camera.

    People still buy it.

    The company exists.

  22. By the same token Pan Am still exists. They still have planes. They still fly. Let’s say then that Polaroid as it exists today was left a merre shadow of its former greatness. How’s that?

  23. Asterio Valino Tecson

    Yesterday, I brought from a roadside flea market a beautiful, super mint condition Polaroid Land camera 800 complete with accessories and leather bag for 20 dollars. It’s surprising to find a Polaroid 800 in such prestine condition considering that it was issued in 1957 -62. I grew up with the Nikon F, F2, F2AS, F3, F5 and now digitals but nothing gives me that “pride of possesion’ as this Polaroid 800. The Land camera is a symbol of the creative genius and innovative American spirit that produce original, quality products – proudly made in America. Since much of the stuff you see around are all made in China, I treasure this ‘truly American’ Polaroid and will keep it as a momento of what America was when almost 75% of its product was conceptualized, designed and produced here. Though in the later part of his colorful life, Edwin Land unfortunately failed to “re-invent” himself, nothing could change the fact that many businesses today and the world at large , benefitted from his life work. Alas, the “culture of greatness” has now been outsourced elsewhere.

  24. I work at Polaroid. We make products. I also work with people who have worked at Polaroid for the past 30-40 years. I’m not sure what those of you are talking about when you say Polaroid is dead. It sure says Polaroid on my checks every other week.

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