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Polaroid to close instant film plants

End of a photographic era

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The Polaroid Corporation has announced it's running down its instant film business, likely marking the death knell for the technology.

The company has two plants in Massachusetts, at Norwood and Waltham, producing professional, large format instant film, as well as a tentacle in Mexico making the same. Consumer products are manufactured in the Netherlands, and all four factories are slated for closure this year.

Chief operating officer Tom Beaudoin told the Boston Globe that while the company is "interested in licensing its technology to an outside firm that could manufacture film for faithful Polaroid customers", it will only produce enough stock to satisfy demand into 2009.

Polaroid began its exit from instant film tech some time ago, in response to pressure from digital cameras. Beaudoin said: "We stopped making commercial-type cameras about 18 to 24 months ago, and we stopped making consumer cameras about a year ago."

The famous brand was established by Edwin Land in 1937. During WWII Polaroid made protective glasses and goggles for the US military, and produced its first instant camera in 1948.

During the boom years of the late 1970s, the company employed over 15,000 people in Massachusetts, and its OneStep was the best-selling camera of any type.

At the end of the 1980s, though, it was plunged "deeply into debt to fend off a hostile takeover", then invested heavily in failed products while failing to spot the digital threat. By 2001 it was bankrupt, and subsequently acquired by Petters Group Worldwide which snaffled up its remaining assets in 2005.

The Norwood and Waltham plant closures, due for completion during this quarter, will cost around 150 jobs. The company will retain 150 executive and administrative employees at its headquarters in Concord and a smaller office in Waltham. It will in future concentrate on flat-panel TVs and digital photography equipment.

Ron Glaz, director of digital imaging program at IDC Corporation, said of Polaroid's decision: "It's about time. The fact that they're getting out of film makes complete sense." ®

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