Tales of Toyota

Established in 1937, Toyota has enjoyed over 75 years of tremendous success and has developed into one of the most prominent car manufacturers worldwide. I actually even have a pretty memorable personal connection to Toyota: the first car I ever drove by myself was a Toyota Prius. It was a very exciting moment! With Toyota’s successful past and bright future, I thought it would be fun and interesting to look back at the history of Toyota to see what has helped shape it into the powerhouse it is today.

Toyota has a long, rich history that dates back to 1867 with the birth of Sakichi Toyoda, the father of Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of Toyota Motor Corporation. Born on the brink of the rise of modern Japan, Sakichi was heavily influenced by the book Saigoku rishi hen, which features an inventor who designs textile machinery. Inspired to pursue his own inventions, Sakichi went on to develop a wooden hand loom, but his ultimate goal was to develop a self-powered loom. Eventually Sakichi did successfully design a power loom and completed the prototype in 1896. Sakichi later went on to achieve 40 patents, with a majority of them being related to looms and other textile related machinery.

Sakichi’s innovation and business acumen set a strong foundation for his son Kiichiro. Kiichiro, who graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1920, was involved in his father’s loom business while in school, focusing mainly on the engineering aspects of the business. After working with his father in the loom business for years, Kiichiro thought it wise to diversify and decided he wanted to enter the automotive business. While still working in the textile machinery manufacturing industry, Kiichiro also developed prototypes of automobile engines. In 1933, Kiichiro installed his engine prototypes on automobiles and organized test runs. Later, on September 1, 1933, Kiichiro established the Automotive Production Division of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd. Following the establishment of this automotive division, Kiichiro sought to recruit people with previous experience in the automotive industry. Kiichiro and his team worked quickly and by May 1935 they completed the Model A1 car prototype. Soon after, the Model G1 truck prototype was completed and shortly thereafter was being sold for 3,200 yen in December 1935. By October 1936, the company name was changed to “Toyota” from “Toyoda” and the logo we all know so well today came to be the official logo.

Kiichiro was a spirited, driven man who grew to be a pioneer of the Japanese automotive industry. Though Kiichiro did base his first automobiles off of Western models, Kiichiro strongly believed that for his automobile business to be successful, Toyota would have to take the initiative to further innovation and advancement in the automotive field. To further these goals, Kiichiro founded a research laboratory in Tokyo that focused on both scientific research and the development of practical skills. One of the major innovative techniques developed by Toyota was its Just-in-Time production concept, which to this day remains a key part of the Toyota Production System and has been a huge contributor to its success. Another innovative stride taken by Toyota was the development of the electric car, which began as early as 1940!

On March 27, 1952 Kiichiro Toyoda passed away, however his legacy certainly did not leave with him. Shortly before Kiichiro’s death and continuing thereafter, Toyota enjoyed ever increasing demand for its passenger cars, indicating a quickly growing domestic and overseas market. In August of 1957 Toyota entered the US market and shortly began to see signs of success. Fast forward to 2014, and Toyota is now the 12th largest public company and the largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world—now, that’s what I call success!

To read more about the history of Toyota at toyota-global.com.