Home and Family

While not an official biography, the following is reprinted with the kind permission of the Royal Society.

by F.W. Campbell, F.R.S.†

Edwin H. Land was born to Harry and Martha Land in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was
[the only son]. His father was a landowner and prosperous scrap-metal dealer. Edwin's schooling was at Norwich Free Academy. His yearbook photograph comes with the caption ‘Ed is some star in his studies and we are sure that he will make a name for himself and Alma Mater in college’. He graduated with honours from the Norwich Free Academy.

As a young lad, he was interested in literature and science and slept with a copy of R.W. Wood’s Physical Optics (1st edn 1905, 2nd edn 1911, 3rd edn 1934) under his pillow. Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955) was born in Concord, Massachusetts. After studying at Harvard and Berlin, Wood taught physics at Wisconsin from 1897 until 1901, when he was appointed Professor of Experimental Physics at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, where most of his notable work was done. Land would have had the first or the second edition. Wood was an experimenter of great ingenuity in the areas of optics, light, electricity and photography. Did Robert Wood inspire Edwin Land as a child?

Land attended Harvard College and, while still a freshman, set out to find a new way of producing an inexpensive and efficient polarizer which he called Polaroid. He left the freshman physics class of 1926 and intensified his education at the New York Public Library, as had Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931). Harvard University finally awarded an honorary doctorate to him in 1957. For many years he was always called Dr. Land, as he had some 20 honorary doctorates from other universities. His close friends, however, called him Din, his childhood nickname. Bradford Washburn, who knew Land at Harvard, was asked why Din did not finish his physics studies; he replied, ‘He didn't need to.’

Edwin Land is survived by his wife, Helen (née Maislen) and two daughters, Jennifer and Valerie.