Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he studied chemistry at Harvard. While still a freshman, he invented the first inexpensive filters capable of polarizing light. Edwin Land did not finish his studies, but instead set up the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories in 1932 together with his Harvard physics instructor. He then went on to establish the Polaroid Corporation in Boston in 1937 to further develop and produce the sheet polarizers under the Polaroid trademark. The initial major application was for sunglasses and science, but it has found many applications, for instance as an important component of LCDs.
In the early 1970s, he attempted to explain the previously known phenomenon of color constancy with his Retinex theory of color vision. His popular demonstrations of color constancy raised much interest in the concept. Land however failed to cite earlier work on the concept and was later criticized for that.
In his retirement years, he founded the Rowland Institute for Science.