Wurman’s guide to Polaroid’s first 50 years.

Last week, my New York magazine colleague Ben Wallace did a bangup job writing about TED—the series of conferences devoted to “technology, entertainment, and design” at which very smart people touch antennae with other very smart people. The story extensively quotes Richard Saul Wurman, TED’s founder, who made his money publishing a series of travel guides under the rubric “Access”: Access New York, Access San Francisco, and so forth. Well, they weren’t all travel guides: A few were single-topic subjects (dogs, baseball), and at least one was a corporate project, about the history of a certain instant-photography concern.

Polaroid Access: Fifty Years was published in 1987, to mark the company’s first half-century. It’s really nicely art-directed and produced, and I recognize lots of photos and other bits and pieces of material from the Polaroid archives. (I must say that it was useful, as I put my own book together, to have a predigested timeline indicating every milestone.)

It’s a nice synergy, Polaroid and TED. (And words like “synergy” are the essence of TED.) Edwin Land’s company was, especially before the 1980s, as much think tank as corporate entity, built around pumping out profitable ideas based on pure research. Only in its later years did it become principally a manufacturing concern, devoted almost solely to making cameras and film, and that’s when the problems began.

Copies are scarce, but they turn up in the $50 range now and then. There was a downloadable PDF online somewhere—I saw it a couple of years ago—but it seems to have disappeared. If it resurfaces, I’ll add a link. [Updated, 3/17/2015: Here it is!]

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