William McCune
The Polaroid Corporation
Old Concord Road, Lincoln

Age 81

Interviewed July 11, 1996

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

Science & Technology Segment

William McCuneWilliam McCune shares with us today a career of over a half century with The Polaroid Corporation, a company that was one of the first high tech companies in the area and synonymous with instant photography.  Mr. McCune is a former President and CEO of Polaroid.  He succeeded Dr. Edwin Land in 1975.

The thing that is unique about instant photography is that it is a system in which both camera and film make it possible to obtain a photograph, we say instantly, but it is within a minute or so of the time you expose it.  This is in contrast to having to take the film out of the camera when it is completed, take it to some photo finishing station to have it developed and prints made, get it back and see what you’ve got.  Whereas with the instant system, it’s possible to see on the spot the results of your photograph and to make corrections and make additional photographs or share the photographs you’ve taken with your friends or even to give them away, which is one of the things that happens when you’re traveling.  People often would like to have a picture which was taken on the spot.

How does the actual process work?  It’s very complicated, and it is particularly complicated if you get into the question as to how does the color work.  The basic concept is of a transfer system in which the normal photosynthesis element of the system, commonly referred to as the negative, is combined with another element that becomes what one would call the positive or is a viewing image.  When the negative is exposed and then processed, in our case running it through a pair of rollers which spreads a viscous liquid between or over it in one way or another, the exposed elements of the negative are developed and that causes reaction which results in the transfer from the negative of either colors or, in the case of black and white, silver, which is then deposited in the deposit substrate and becomes the viewing image.  Now that is a thumbnail sketch!

I first knew Dr. Edwin Land when he was 28 and I was about 22.  He evolved and changed a great deal over the period of time I knew him, but he was an extraordinary person and a delightful person to know, although he could be difficult too, as we all can.  He is difficult to summarize in a way.  He was an extraordinarily creative person and a very intense person.  He was a person who devoted enormous amounts of his time and energy to accomplish the things he set out to do.  He was, of course, a genius and lots of people think that a genius is a person who accomplishes what he does simply because he’s very bright.  My observation is that geniuses accomplish what they do because they are not only very bright but because they work very, very hard with great concentration.  He was of course that kind of person.  He would spend endless hours, nights and days and on weekends, in his laboratory working on whatever was foremost in his mind to accomplish at the time.  One of the interesting things about Land was that his great achievements really were around solving problems.  He didn’t invent something by having some extraneous idea and then trying to find a use for it.  He set about to solve a problem. 

One of his first rate inventions was the thing that was the basis for The Polaroid Corporation which was the creation of the inexpensive sheet polarizer.  It is the first product that Polaroid made and commercialized and was sort of the genesis of the word Polaroid.  The reason for that accomplishment was that he became obsessed with the problems of night driving in the late ‘20s, and the accidents that were occurring because of narrow roads and bright headlights from oncoming cars that were blinding other drivers, and so he set about to solve the problem.  His notion of the way to do that was to have polarized headlights and polarized viewers so that the headlights of oncoming cars would be dimmed or illumination reduced but it would not reduce the illumination from your own headlights.  At that time the only polarizers available came from natural crystals and were very small in size and extraordinarily expensive.  So he conceived of the idea of making an inexpensive sheet polarizer which could be used in large areas, and he set about to do that.

In the case of the camera, instant photography, it actually came about because his wife was in the West with the two children and he went out to visit them and took some pictures of the young daughter who was seven or eight years old at that time, and she said, “Why can’t I see the picture?”  So he said well, why can’t you, and set about to solve that problem.  During the war he was a consultant to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and there again his contributions were about making quite unique solutions to problems.  He was also the creator or the originator of the U2 spy plane and that came about again because he was a member of the President’s Advisory Committee and at the time in the late ‘50s, Eisenhower and everyone else was worried about what was going on behind the Iron Curtain and Land said, “Well, why don’t we take a look and find out.”  So he had this notion of building a plane that flew so high that nobody else could catch him and developing very powerful photography that could make photographs from those heights and still have very high resolution.  So he set about to get that done.  That’s really the kind of person he was in that regard.

Originally, Land wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a career.  He was torn between science and a literary career, and eventually ended up in science I guess because he really wanted to solve problems.  He always had a great interest in the arts of all forms, music, visual arts and literature.  He had a great many academic friends, and he brought into the company in various ways, mostly as consultants, people from the academic world and others including such people as Ansel Adams, who was a very early consultant and a very close friend of many of us in the company.  But Land naturally attracted people of various talents and of various interests.  He leavened the company with them.  Because of this environment, it attracted to the company as employees people with a whole variety of talents and interests and people who made enormous contributions to the company, not only in science, but in a lot of other ways.  I think that is one of the things that made Polaroid an extraordinary and unusual company.  He was interested in people who were creative.  Lots of people think, without really knowing, that Land invented everything at Polaroid, which of course, simply wasn’t true.  He just attracted and made an environment which attracted creative people, and the things that the company accomplished really depended on a lot of other creative people, the cumulative effect of creative people and an environment in which they were encouraged to do their best.

He was quite a showman.  He was better than P.T. Barnum.  He really was a very good showman.  Our company annual meetings would sometimes have as many as a couple thousand people which is extraordinary.  Mostly they just came to see Land and hear what he had to say.  It was because of his personality and his showmanship and unusual topics.  He always had something unusual to talk about and he got everyone interested and excited.

The company was formed in 1937.  Land and a fellow named George Wheelwright set out much earlier than that to try to develop the sheet polarizer.  George Wheelwright was a fellow who was a physics instructor at Harvard, and when Land left to work on this which he did in his sophomore year, George joined up with him and they had this laboratory.  After they were successful in developing the sheet polarizer, Land had a friend who had been a camp counselor whose name was Julius Silver.  He was a lawyer in New York at the time, so Land went to him to get some help on what to do about a company.  Julie was an extraordinary person also, very astute, very well connected, so he helped Land.  Really Julie was the one who set about to get the company organized and raise the finances which he did from a small number of people in New York including Averill Harriman.  So the company was formed on the basis of commercializing the polarizer, and of course, the objective at that time was to sell the automotive companies on having polarizing headlights, which never came about because they never wanted to do it.

The company was formed in 1937 as The Polaroid Corporation and I joined it in late 1939.  I had gone to work for General Motors overseas operations and I was supposed to go work in Germany.  Hitler went on the rampage in August of 1939 and I decided I didn’t want to stick around General Motors at that point.  The appeal of going to work in Germany was very great to me because I had never been out of the country.  I talked to some people at MIT and they suggested that I come talk to Polaroid.  It was very difficult to find anything out about the company at that point.  It had no reputation.  There had been one Fortune article about the polarizing sheet.  The company at that time was located in a small second floor loft on Columbus Avenue.  I went over there and had an interview.  The fellow that was interested in hiring me was Jack Latham, an old time friend of Land and also a MIT man, as I was.  He took me to the building that they were renting in Cambridge.  It was an old candy factory on the corner of Main Street and Osborn Street.  I ended up joining Polaroid.  Nat Sage at the time was advising alumni in job opportunities and I had been in touch with him.  He’s the one who had sent me to Polaroid, and I went over to see him on my way back from the interview and told him that I thought it was very interesting and there were a lot of fascinating things about it, but it was also difficult to learn anything about what was going on.  So we sort of left on that note and I was living in New York at the time and took the train back to New York and when I got there, there was a telegram from Nat that said, “Think twice before you turn down Polaroid.”  Well, I didn’t have any intention of turning it down, so right then and there I accepted the job. 

I was hired to set up quality assurance operations at the company.  The automotive companies hadn’t bought into Polaroid’s headlights and the main commercial product was lenses for polarizing sunglasses.  The final sunglasses were assembled by American Optical Company.  They had a license to do this and sell them under the trademark Polaroid and they bought the lenses from Polaroid.  It was a somewhat complicated process to take a polarizing sheet and to slit it and coat it with an adhesive and then blank it out and sandwich it between two pieces of precut glass that were cut to a specific shape.  The sandwich and the glass all had to be properly oriented and laminated and there were all kinds of opportunities for problems and defects to arise.  American Optical being an optical company had rather high standards for its products and Polaroid was having a very difficult time getting a product satisfactory to their requirements.  So I was hired to try to help solve these problems.

As I said the main products of the company were flat sunglass lenses and some specialty scientific polarizing filters of one kind or another, but of course there was a lot of work going on in research areas and in other kinds of filter media and in new kinds of polarizers.  I remember that Land had a company meeting which consisted of all 75 people or so in one of the rooms in the building on 730 Main Street at Christmas time, and he gave a little talk.  One of the things he said was that he was convinced that the war that was going in Europe was of much greater significance to the United States then most people felt, and he had decided that from then on the company was going to devote its main efforts as far as research for new products and new things to do with military work and not more commercial work.  Land had become associated with some people from ordnance and had gotten involved in consulting to solve some of their problems, and the result of that was the awesome problems were brought back to Polaroid and work was done there to derive solutions for them.  Frequently this led to products that we made and frequently it didn’t, but the result was that it wasn’t very long before practically the whole company business was devoted to military activities.  At the beginning of the war the total business was less than a million dollars, and by the time the war ended, it was $14 or $15 million and the number of employees had grown to 1200-1300.

One of the major projects that we ended up with was developing a heat homing missile for the Navy.  The specific problem was how to hit a maneuvering Japanese war ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean from an airplane at 15-20,000 feet.  That was the problem and our solution was a heat homing missile which was the very first heat homing missile ever made.  It was developed when the problems about air-to-air missiles surfaced, a big argument came up as to how to do it.  The Air Force wanted to use radar, but the Royal Ordnance people involved knew of our work and had seen our success with heat homing and engines of an aircraft were pretty darn hot targets, so they insisted on developing their own system which turned into the Sidewinder missile.  It is based on the techniques we developed on the heat homing missile but the technology, the hardware and the electronics and all that were entirely new.

We developed rubber goggles for Gen. Patton’s tanks.  They had a variety of filters in them and they were also used in the Navy with a special filter which was called the dark adaptation filter.  They could darken very quickly at dusk to see enemy aircraft and submarines and so forth.  There were a great many things.  There was a whole infrared system developed for the military to use infrared headlight and infrared viewers so they could see at night without being seen by the enemy.

It was during the war period about 1944 that Land got interested in this question of an instant camera.  With a couple of young ladies that had been working in one of his laboratories, he set aside a little room and got them working on some ideas he had about this transfer process that I mentioned.  By the time the war ended we were making reasonably decent images in the laboratory not with any cameras of any sort.  We simply decided we didn’t want to continue in the war business and we were going to put everything we had in trying to develop an instant system.  So we started from scratch when the war ended to develop this camera and film system.  The result was that we dropped the military contracts.  We got Kodak to take the heat homing missile project because it hadn’t run out yet.  So we didn’t have any products to sell.  There was very little income and lots of outgo because we were going on and trying to develop the film camera.  So the company shrank a great deal.

Fortunately we introduced the first cameras at Thanksgiving time in 1948.  As I recall we had about 240 people at that time.  The first official announcement was at a talk that Land made in 1947.  The objective of the announcement was first the technical announcement of the process and some demonstrations, and part of the purpose of the demonstrations was to show that it was feasible to make a hand-held camera that would deliver such a photograph.  First of all, we had to give a paper.  My wife Elizabeth did a lot of work on the paper.  She was a chemist.  We built a big camera that gave a 8x10 photograph and that was on a tripod.  We had to make the film for that by hand practically.  Then we made two or three different kinds of hand-held cameras with the idea that some of us engineers and developing people would be around to take photographs of the press and others to show them that we could actually make photographs.  It was a very active period.  The meeting was to be held at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City.  We packed all the stuff in a truck here in Boston and got everything all organized and took off for New York.  The truck driver started out and got into one of the biggest blizzards we’d ever had.  We woke up the next morning and New York was shut down.  There was no traffic, no nothing.  We were wondering about the truck, but he got through.  We had the meeting and all went well.  Fascinating meeting.  Of course, it astonished everybody.  The wonderful thing was Land, being the showman that he was, got the then president of the optical society to come up and had him stand and took his photograph.  Out it came and he hands it to him and of course, everyone went wild.

We had practically no profit before the war, and we were doing quite a lot of business and made quite a lot of profits during the war, and one of the features of the contracts was that you had an excess profits tax and that excess profit was based on what profits you made before the war, so a great deal of any profits we made were taken in taxes.  But there was a provision that you could draw back on the excess profits tax for costs involved in conversion back to civilian work.  So the thing that kept us alive from 1946 through 1948 was the ability to draw back these excess profits.  We were going to run out of any excess profits and we had very small commercial revenues in that period, so one way or another we had to have a product on the market in 1948.  That’s how we got it out in November of that year.  The first commercial sale for the camera was to Jordan Marsh.

We were so interested to find out how our cameras reacted.  It was expensive at that time to buy the camera.  I’ve often said that one of the elements of success of a camera was the fact that we couldn’t make very many.  At that time there was a tax on amateur cameras of 25% or something like that, and our camera was not small and it was fairly heavy, but the amateur camera was classed as a camera that weighed less than 4 lbs.  Ours was close enough to that that we decided we would make it heavy enough so we wouldn’t have to pay the taxes.  So we had this rather heavy camera that was quite large, and it was a fairly complicated device for us to make at that time.  We only made 50 cameras in 1948.  The selling price was $95.  Well, $95 was a lot of money for a camera in 1948.  There were just enough people who had $95 that they wanted to spend on something like that and who were adventuresome so we sold all we could make.  That was the best thing you could do was to sell all you could make rather than have a lot of inventory.

We wanted to get started and 50 cameras was all we could make.  We were just getting going and we were also making and assembling the film pretty much by hand.  We didn’t have our final film assembly equipment.  We ended up designing and building much of our specialized manufacturing equipment which was also one of my jobs.  We had to work in air conditioning in order to keep the material we were working with, which were paper based materials.  Dimensions would change a great deal in changes in humidity, so in order for all of them to come together properly, we worked in buildings with temperature and humidity control.  The factory was air conditioned but none of the offices were.  This was all automatic machinery that did this, you couldn’t do this by hand.  I remember at one point we were spending quite a lot of money and proposing to spend a lot of money on this automatic machinery and the board was kind of skeptical about this so they asked one of the board members, Jack Latham who hired me, to run an investigation to see what he thought about it.  He came and worked with us, and he readily saw that automatic machinery was the right thing but we had a very early automatic factory and part of it was because a good deal of it had to be done in the dark.  It needed very high accuracy working in the dark.

The company decided not to market the product through distributors but to market the product directly to dealers.  There was a lot of discussion about that.  It was very interesting because initially photographic dealers weren’t interested in the product.  I don’t know quite why.  We had a great deal of trouble in getting them interested.  We decided to go through department stores and other commodity dealers.  That was one reason we went to Jordan Marsh and they were very much interested.  The big department stores at that time became some of our best dealers.  It was only after several years, 3 or 4 years, that the photographic guys began to realize that selling Polaroid film was a very lucrative business.  Of course, we actually got into the drug stores too.  We felt positioning the product and marketing it could be much better handled by our own people.

The reason that I mentioned about the film is that the repeat film sales is something that is very important to the dealers, and the dealers, because of the price cutting in the long run, began to find it difficult to make very much on cameras, but they could make quite a bit of money on the repeat business of film.

Kodak was extraordinarily helpful to us.  We first showed the idea of the instant process to the then head of research at Kodak.  We had a good relationship with Kodak for many years.  Land had known some people there and then we had done some work with them and had done some things during the war.  When we got into this field, it was clear that we didn’t have either the know-how or the facility to make the light sensitive product.  That is the part that is generally called the negative.  We very much needed to have someone who would make negative for us.  We also felt that for a variety of reasons we wanted a negative that had some special characteristics.  We just couldn’t go and buy one off the shelf.  Since we’d had some good relations with Kodak before that, we talked to some of their people there and invited down the head of research and two or three others.  He came and looked over what we were doing and I think was quite impressed by the whole thing.  The Kodak management was a very enlightened group at that time.  I always think of them as being good statesmen.  In any event they saw this as very interesting and early on decided they didn’t want to try to get into doing it but would help us with it, and so developed this relationships between the people in research.  It started out with people in what was then known as the paper division which is the division that made all their coated paper products.  The reason for that is that we wanted the negative to be on a paper base not on a film base.  They develop a special negative for us on paper base and that was what we used in the initial product.  Then as we went along we kept working with them all the time to develop better bases and improved negatives which is all black and white. 

Then in about 1948 Land told one of his associates, a young fellow named Howie Rogers that he wanted him to stop working on polarizers and concentrate totally on how to make color.  So Howie started out and went through a whole lot of things.  There was also a bright young man trained as an engineer but a very good scientist named Otto Wolf, who worked with me a great deal and he and I would go talk to Howie about his processes.  He was very creative and he would have a lot of ideas and some of them we thought would never be something you could make very well.  He kept working on it.  In order for Howie to do his experiments he needed a source of the light sensitive emulsions that are coated onto negatives in order to make the sensitized film.  Again we didn’t have any facilities for making such things and so Land asked Sy Staud at Kodak, who was then Director of Research if they would be willing to supply us with the emulsions.  They agreed to do that but on the basis that when we had a product or something we thought would be a product that they would have first opportunity to bid on making it for us.  So that went on and as we got to the point where we thought we had a good product, we showed to them and they were enthusiastic and we set up a very unusual cooperative development program.  They had their own kinds of manufacturing facilities and processes.  To develop the negative further around our inventions and our special chemicals, they wanted to have a development that would go readily into their manufacturing without a lot of changes.  So we had a team from their research and our research and Land and me and we used to have a meeting a month, one month in Rochester and one month in Boston until we got to the point where we had a product that looked as if they were going to make it.  They made all the color negative for us initially.  It was a very fine relationship in my opinion.  They were very helpful and I don’t think we would have gotten where we were without them.

The relationship continued until the early ‘70s.  They very much wanted to get a license from us to make instant products.  Land and I used to have meetings with a man named Wren Gable who was one of their Executive Vice Presidents.  I’d known him for years there and he had always been involved with the other development work that went back to the ‘40s.  We kept saying we’d love to give them a license but we just didn’t know how to give them a license that would make sure that they just didn’t swallow us up.  They were a great big company and we were a little company, and if we gave them a license, they could make products like ours, and how are we going to survive?  We’d go over it and over it with him and try to find some way to do it.  In any event there was another man who was an Executive Vice President at Kodak and when the time came to appoint a new president, he was appointed president and Gable resigned from the company.  I always thought that was a great mistake.  In any event, the new fellow decided that his tactics were to beat us into it.  Since they were the only people making negative for us, he used every whip he could get to try to make us agree to a license.  We finally agreed to a license that we knew wasn’t going to be any good to them.  Because at that time we were also working on the SX-70 development.  The license didn’t include anything in that field.

Back in 1958 or 1959 I had also got to worrying about the fact that we had only one source of color negatives and if anything ever happened we would be in trouble.  So I decided to sort of, over Land’s dead body, that wasn’t quite true, he supported it, but Land didn’t want to make anything.  He always thought we should just buy it.  That wasn’t entirely true but that’s basically it.  But I felt we should have some facilities so I started a small group working on trying to learn how to make color negative.  We eventually built up a group in Waltham in a special building, Building 4.  They developed all kinds of techniques for making emulsions and negatives and so on.  At that time we were just beginning to develop the SX-70 system.  It required a new negative entirely different from the one we’d been making.  Land had this dream that he was going to sell enormous numbers of negative and he thought that maybe we could appease Kodak by having them make the negative and there would be so much negative that the business would be great for them.  Well, that turned out not to work.  We had some meetings there and I remember I came back from a meeting in Rochester and I and another fellow who at that time was the head of research at Polaroid, Dick Young, had been there.  It hadn’t been a very satisfactory meeting because Land had as usual pretty high demands and they said they couldn’t meet them.  So we came back and I talked to Land and I said they say they can’t do it.  He was angry and he looked at me and said ‘Can you do it?’  Well we didn’t have any building or anything, but I said ‘Yes, we can do it.  I won’t guarantee we will make all you said you wanted from them, but we’ll make enough so you’ll never be short of it.’  I think this was in late 1968 and we started the building design in New Bedford in 1969.  So we started to design that building and we had it built and running in 1972, and I think at the time it was finished it was the most advanced negative factory in the world.  Mac Booth was working for me out in Building 4, so I asked him to take charge of the program and run the building.  So that’s how we got into the negative business.

A fellow named Walter Fallon who we had known very well from the old color negative days in Stanley Kodak Park became President of Kodak.  He came down to see us one day with a couple of their lawyers and said they were going to make some instant products and they were quite sure that they weren’t going to infringe our patents.  In any event, they hadn’t actually seen the SX-70 yet but they started out to make the product.  Then at one of the annual meetings the first SX-70 cameras were shown.  They had people there and they went home and said, “Look, all the things we’re doing are no good any more.  We’ve got to start over again.”  We know this came up from the records of the trials and so on.  So they scraped everything they were doing and started all over again.  Then they found that it was very difficult to make a camera that would compete with the SX-70 without somehow coming close to infringing our patents.  Well, they always felt that they came close to not infringing them or ‘infringing valid claims’ as they put it, but when the trial came, the judge didn’t think so.  I think their first camera came out in about 1975 and that’s when the lawsuit started.

One of the things I’ve said a number of times is that we were the only company that I know of that had a unique very important commercial field of that kind all to itself.  The reason was exactly what I just said that the company was so creative and Land was so creative and he kept driving these ideas into systems so that by the time one set of patents had run out and might have been possible for someone to compete with more systems, we had new patents and new systems that they just couldn’t compete with.  That just went on and on.  That was perhaps the final nail in the coffin you might say when this SX-70 thing came out.

All of our cameras before then had used what we always called the peel apart process and that is when the picture develops, after a certain length of time you had to remove the positive from the negative, then you could see it.  The difference was that the SX-70 photograph came out and it was dry, as far as handling is concerned, and you could watch it develop in the light.  That was a whole new thing.  It interestingly was a culmination you might say of what Land had described to me when he first described his idea for an instant camera.  What he said was, I remember very well we were standing there and he had shown me this little transfer thing back in 1944, and he said ‘You know I can imagine a camera that is simple and easy to use.  You simply look through the viewfinder and compose your picture and push the shutter release and out comes the finished dry photograph in full color.’  Well, that was SX-70 but that was about 30 years later.  It actually came out in 1972.  First color was introduced in 1962 and the new packed cameras with color was in 1963.

In 1975 I became President and Chief Operating Officer. That was a very important transition for the company.  Land still dominated in a way.  He was still CEO and Chairman and Director of Research.  He stayed in that position until 1980.  We always had our arguments and our disagreements.  We did still but we worked pretty well together for the most part.  We had some serious troubles, but he was an extraordinary person and a very wonderful guy to work for.  I guess you had to be sort of tough.

The new SX-70 system was just really coming into fruition but we had a lot of troubles with the first system.  Land always had great vision.  He was a great optimist.  He had all the characteristics that made it possible for him to devote his life doing what he did.  Without those characteristics he might not have put in what he did.  So things never came out quite the way he dreamed and they always took longer and they always cost more and always were a little more difficult to make work.  That was certainly true of the SX-70 system initially.  He and I had had some serious disagreements about that in the early stages, such that he really didn’t want me involved for a while and then finally as things began to get in trouble, he asked me to kind of take over.  That was really kind of coming to fruition in ‘75. 

Polavision was just beginning to take form.  It was another issue on which he and I didn’t agree.  He wanted to go ahead and make this system and build the building for making the film.  He got a contractor in Austria to make the hardware better, but at that time it wasn’t such a big deal.  But that became a big issue about 1978 or 1979.  Again, he always wanted to do things in a big way and he really insisted on commitments for quantities on the polavision system and the investment and resources for making it.  Of course, it turned out to not ever be useful.  But, you know, he didn’t have many failures.  Most things he planned on we pulled out of the fire in some way or another.  That one, there was no way to do it.

As to polavision I’m going to speak of my own prejudices in this case, but I thought that it was not a very good system.  It was a great technical achievement and you looked at the problems that had been solved and the technology involved in it, there was a lot of very, very clever solutions and technical work.  But I thought the system wasn’t very good to be frank about it.  It was based on an additive color system, and the problem with the additive color is that it uses up a lot of light for viewing slides.  You get wonderful color rendition and excellent resolution but the slides are dull.  In order to make them bright you have to have an enormous amount of lighting unprotected.  The process was quite slow photographically.  One of the solutions that was made was to have a backlit projector that you could set up, you didn’t have a screen or anything, and viewed it on its screen.  That gave you a fairly small image.  The other thing is that you had a system in which you got about five or six minutes of viewing for, I’ve forgotten the exact price, but for about $8 or $9 which is fairly expensive. 

If there had never been any video, it might have be able to do something, but here was video coming along.  One of the interesting things to me was that Land would never recognize it.  He would get angry and wouldn’t recognize it.  It was so different because he was usually the first one to pick up on some new technical thing and see the potential of it for the future.  Of course, when the video systems were first starting there weren’t any nice, little compact ones for home use, but you could see they were there soon.  All you had to do is just look at the way the systems were going and he knew that because he had done the same thing in all our own cameras.  We’d started out with electronics and had electronics in some of our early cameras, and then made the first really integrated camera that was ever made.  That’s what the Japanese copied for all their systems.  But somehow he didn’t want to see it.  Polavision just never had a chance.

We’ve talked about the personal use of our cameras, but we also did about half our business with industrial uses.  Now there are markets in China and Russia.  We started in Europe in the 1950s and gradually built mostly marketing companies there, and then we built a  manufacturing company in Scotland, and we built a manufacturing company in the Netherlands.  We had a company in Japan and I guess we’ve had that company for 35 years.  We started in the Soviet Union and China about ten years ago and those are both moving very well now.  I think the company has now grown to over 16,000 employees.  I was an employee of the company until 1990 when I retired and stayed on as chairman for another year.  I left in 1991.

We had so much product evolution and design but there is also the marketing component.  They don’t go in tandem.  A lot of people would argue whether you should have market research and so on and my opinion is that when you are creating things that people don’t even know exist and people don’t know about it and can’t really understand until they see it, market research is no damn good.  The interesting thing to me is that more recently the company has gotten into a lot of market research and focus groups and things of that sort.  The products that have had the most of that and had the highest success and the highest enthusiasm in this area have usually been the biggest flops for the company.  I doesn’t mean that that sort of thing isn’t of use, but I think to try to get consumers to tell you something about a new product that they really don’t know about is a mistake.  The same thing is true concerning Walkman.  That is an interesting story.  Marita who was one of the founders of Sony was telling me the story about his partner, Ibuka, who was sort of retired but did a lot of creative work on the side.  Ibuka came into his office one day with the forerunner of the Walkman walking around with it in his ear.  Marita got very excited.  He took it to the market group and they said there is no market for that.  So Marita said if we don’t make that product, I’m going to resign.  That’s a great story!

William McCune

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Mounted 19 Jan. 2008; image mouted 4 May 2013 -- rcwh