The Fellowships were established in 1969 thanks to a gift from the late Dr. Edwin H. Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation and inventor of instant photography. The Fellowships were created in memory of Peter J. Eloranta, a member of the MIT Class of 1968, and the only son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Vaite Eloranta. Mr. Eloranta was an employee of the Polaroid Corporation when it was headed by Dr. Land.
Dr. Land's aim in establishing this award was to encourage undergraduate creativity and stimulate involvement in a broader range of intellectual activity than is normally possible during the term. Land expressed this idea of a personal research project for all students in his “Generation of Greatness” address at MIT, which helped inspire these fellowships as well as the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).