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Home /History / How Did Polaroid Get Its Name?

How Did Polaroid Get Its Name?

By Christian Roemer

If you’ve been to a wedding in the past 15 or so years, you’ve probably heard Andre 3000’s iconic words, “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.” During the song’s breakdown everyone on the dance floor proceeds to lose their minds in different ways. My go-to move is the Bernie, but some folks opt for a twist.

As folks are gyrating on the dance floor, listening to Andre sing about shaking your body like a picture, how many people actually know what he’s talking about?

What is a Polaroid picture?

Why would anyone shake anything like a Polaroid picture? What does Polaroid picture even mean?!


We’re glad you asked. We’re going to give you all the details you never knew you wanted to know about Polaroid pictures.

First off, an interesting fact is that Polaroid is just a brand name of a type of camera called instant cameras. Sort of how in the south, call every type of soda, Coke. Then someone says, “Well, sir, we only sell Pepsi here,” and we just say something like, “yeah, that’s what I said. I want a Coke.” The brand name has become synonymous with the format altogether. Like how my grandparents call all smart phones iPhones. Or how I call all facial tissues, Kleenex. Polaroid is just a brand of instant cameras.

If we back up a little, things start to get a bit clearer. Instant cameras got their names because you could point your camera at something, click the shutter, and a photo would pop out. After about 5 minutes, the picture would be fully developed. While waiting, you could shake this picture a little to expedite the process (Shout out to Andre 3000). The pictures were instant! Amazing! Instant cameras came in all sorts of shapes, brands, and flavors. Fuji sold one. Leica sold one. Nickelodeon sold a miniature one that printed instant picture stickers!

So where did the term, Polaroid, even come from? Easy: that was the name of the company that made the first instant camera. The term, “polaroid” itself actually comes from one of the ingredients required to make instant photos. Polaroid is a plastic sheet with fancy chemicals on it that makes traditional film development unnecessary. So Polaroid is just a scientific term for the materials used to make instant pictures.

Learning about Polaroid Corporation is actually pretty wild. Founded in the late 1930s, Polaroid was a giant company that employed over 21,000 people. From its apex, it eventually went completely bankrupt in 2001. It resurrected itself as “new” Polaroid, then went out of business again in 2008. I guess they didn’t do their research on “New Coke.”

Interestingly, Polaroid still lives in the hearts and minds of photography buffs everywhere. Instagram’s first app icon was based on the famous Polaroid cameras and logo. Even the famous square photos were inspired by the original Polaroid pictures. Ultimately, Polaroid’s death can be directly attributed to digital cameras and cell phones. Instant photos were an upgrade to film that needed to be developed. Photos that were instant were an unquestionable upgrade. Some hipsters are trying to bring Polaroid cameras back, because hipsters are always gonna hipster, but all those hipsters still have cell phones in their pockets too. There’s basically no world anymore where Polaroid pictures are king.

While there probably is a market for folks to buy and carry around instant cameras, they’ll never be the primary source of photography for people like they were in the past.

So next time you’re sitting at the bar of a wedding and you hear Andre 3000 sing those iconic words, you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about and whether you even want to shake it like a Polaroid picture or not.

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