Incorporated: 1935 as Hayakawa Metal Industrial Laboratory
Sales: ¥1.49 billion ($13.3 billion)
Stock Exchanges: Tokyo Osaka Nagoya Paris Luxembourg Zurich Basel Geneva
SICs: 3631 Household Cooking Equipment; 3651 Household Audio & Video Equipment; 3579 Office Machines, Not Elsewhere Classified; 3661 Telephone & Telegraph Apparatus
The Sharp Corporation is one of the largest and oldest Japanese consumer goods manufacturers. Founded on a business creed reminiscent of the ancient trading houses--Sincerity and Creativity--and built largely on the hard work and determination of one man, Sharp is in many ways Japan's most "traditional" modern electronics manufacturer. Sharp remains an outward-looking, international corporation, as dedicated in each of its foreign markets to assimilation as to overall success.
The company was founded as a small metal works in Osaka in 1912 by an inventor and tinkerer named Tokuji Hayakawa. After three years in business, earning a modest income from gadgets and repair jobs, Hayakawa engineered a mechanical pencil he called the "Ever-Sharp." Consisting of a retractable graphite lead in a metal rod, the Ever-Sharp pencil won patents in Japan and the United States. Demand for this simple and durable instrument was immense. To facilitate greater production, Hayakawa first adopted an assembly line and later moved to a larger factory.
Hayakawa's business, as well as his life, were ruined on September 1, 1923. On that day, the Great Kanto Earthquake caused a fire which destroyed his factory and took the lives of his wife and children. Hayakawa endured severe depression; it was a year before he re-established his factory. The Hayakawa Metal Industrial Laboratory, as the company was called, resumed production of the Ever-Sharp pencil, but Hayakawa became interested in manufacturing a new product: radios.
The first crystal radio sets were imported into Japan from the United States in the early 1920s. Hearing one for the first time, Hayakama immediately became convinced of its potential. With little understanding of radios, or even electricity, he set out to develop Japan's first domestically-produced crystal radio. After only three months of study and experimentation, Hayakawa succeeded in receiving a signal from the broadcasting service which had begun programming&mdashø a very small audience--only a few months before, in 1925.
The radio entered mass production shortly afterward, and sold so well that facilities had to be expanded. Crystal radios, however, are passive receivers whose range is limited. Hayakawa felt that powered radios, capable of amplifying signals, should be the subject of further development. While competitors continued to develop better crystal sets, Hayakawa began work on an AC vacuum tube model. When the company introduced a commercial model, the Sharp Dyne, in 1929, Sharp was firmly established as Japan's leading radio manufacturer. The company expanded greatly in the following years, necessitating its reorganization into a corporation in 1935.
The laboratory, for all its success, was not a leader in a wide range of technologies; it led only in a narrow section of the market. In addition, the company did not have the benefit of financial backing from the zaibatsu conglomerates or the government. It was, in the realm of the national modernization effort, an outsider. This may have been its saving grace, however, as the government had become dominated by a group of right-wing imperialists within the military. Whatever their political opinions, the leaders of Japan's largest corporations were compelled to cooperate with the militarists in their quest to establish Japanese supremacy in Asia. Hayakawa, on the other hand, was for the most part left alone.
During World War II, Hayakawa and his company were forced to produce devices for the military, and even to restructure, as new industrial laws intended to concentrate industrial capacity were passed. Renamed Hayakawa Electrical Industries in 1942, the company emerged from the war damaged but not destroyed. While other industrialists were purged from public life for their support of the militarists, Hayakawa was permitted to remain in business. His biggest concerns were rebuilding his company and surviving Japan's postwar recession. more here