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Toyota's 75-Year Journey, So Far
“Open the door, it’s a wide world out there” – Sakichi Toyoda
The early beginnings of the Toyota story started over a century ago when Kiichiro’s father, Sakichi Toyoda established the Toyoda Enterprise. Known as the “King of Inventors” and the Thomas Edison of Japan, Sakichi was born in 1867 during a period of modernisation in Japan. Growing up, he found it difficult to ignore the impoverished conditions of his village. Sakichi found his calling around his 20th birthday: to contribute to society by accomplishing something of consequence.
The “something of consequence” became clear as he observed the hard manual labour of weaving and spinning cloth by hand, especially by his own mother. He later described the process: “I began thinking about ways to power the looms so that weaving could be done faster, and more cloth could be made at lower cost.” In 1926, Sakichi and his son, Kiichiro, perfected the automatic loom design for mass production, the Toyoda G-type Automatic Loom.
The efficiency of the new automatic loom – one worker could operate 25 at the same time – quickly gained the attention of the world’s largest textile manufacturer, Platt Brothers & Co. Ltd. in England. In 1929, as company representative charged with the responsibility of concluding a patent agreement for the G-type, Sakichi’s son, Kiichiro, decided to go to England via the United States. He wanted to see for himself how the automotive industry has developed.
What Kiichiro saw in the United States became his singular goal: to build a car himself. Some space was set aside at Toyoda Automatic Loom Works and a team of engineers were assembled. Despite various setbacks designing their first engine, Kiichiro and his researchers persevered and succeeded as his father had done when developing the automatic loom.
The 1930s were a precarious time to venture into an entirely new industry, especially as skill set and expertise were few and far between. Kiichiro was nevertheless able to convince Risaburo Toyoda – then in charge of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works – to create a dedicated Automobile Department within the company.
Kiichiro’s original plan to build mass produced passenger cars was forced to take a different course as the threat of war approached. Government focus shifted from passenger cars to truck production, prompting Kiichiro to draw up new plans to build trucks. The Model G1 truck was completed in 1935 after less than six months of development. As soon as truck production began, Kiichiro returned to work on his ultimate goal of building a passenger car. The prototype Model AA was completed in 1936.
To decide the brand name to affix to the Model AA, the company ran a public contest. The winning entry out of 20,000 featured the Japanese characters for “ Toyota”. The new design was chosen as it gave a sense of speed, but also because of the auspicious eight strokes of the characters. Toyota was born, and the Model AA became the first car to carry the new brand name.
On August 28, 1937, Toyota Motor Company (today known as Toyota Motor Corporation) was established with Risaburo as its first President.