As [Edwin] Land ultimately recognized, the adoption of his [polarized headlight] system was fatally hampered by the fact that there was no competitive advantage for any car company in using it first. Since all cars needed to incorporate the technology as simultaneously as possible, it was either going to be all, either voluntarily or as directed by the government, or none. No state or federal governmental agency ever stepped in to direct the adoption of the technology in the way that seat belts would be required decades later. Herbert Nichols, a journalist with the Christian Science Monitor who had followed the story, believed that the industry killed the idea even though the demonstrations clearly showed that the system worked. According to Nichols, the industry concluded that it “just didn’t need anything to sell automobiles. They realized they could sell all the automobiles they could make.” Thus, with no economic or competitive incentive, why bother with a system that clearly added costs and admittedly presented implementation issues? After more than two decades, Land reluctantly gave up the fight.

But he learned one very important lesson. “I knew then that I would never go into a commercial field that put a barrier between us and the customer.” Rather than deal with other companies as intermediaries, he would market his innovative products directly to the public. He believed “that the role of industry is to sense a deep human need, then bring science and technology to bear on filling that need. Any market already existing is inherently boring and dull.” Land, like Steve Jobs many decades later, believed that his company should “give people products they do not even know they want.” Fortunately, he already had such a product in mind.

A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War