The history of Canon

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A modest beginning in a small room

In 1933, a small laboratory dedicated to making high-quality cameras was set up in a simple apartment room in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. At the time, all high-quality cameras were European with the majority coming from Germany.
It was in this small room that young people with a big dream earnestly began their work on producing a high-quality Japanese camera, marking the beginning of Canon. Through hard work and with an enterprising spirit, they eventually succeeded in building a prototype, which was named Kwanon after the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The following year, in 1935, Japan’s first-ever 35mm focal-planeshutter camera, the Hansa Canon, was born, along with the Canon

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Striving for the world’s best camera

In 1950, Canon’s first president, Takeshi Mitarai, went to America for the first time to attend an international trade fair. Having seen modern factories and a high standard of living first hand, upon his return, he built a fireproof factory of steel-reinforced concrete in the Shimomaruko area of Tokyo, which he saw as essential for Canon to succeed in doing business with the world at large. Mitarai also made clear his respect for humanity by stressing the importance of the San-ji, or Three Selfs, spirit, the guiding principle for Canon employees. In 1955, Canon made its first step into the global market with the opening of a U.S. office in New York City. In 1957, Canon set up its sole European distributor, Canon Europa, in Geneva, Switzerland. By 1967 exports already topped 50% of the company’s total sales.

The challenge of diversification

Soon after its founding, Canon was hard at work in 1941 on diversifying itself with the introduction of Japan’s first indirect X-ray camera and other products. In the 1960s, the company took further steps toward diversification by adding electrical, physical and chemical technologies to its optical and precision technologies. In 1964, Canon entered the office equipment market with the debut of the world’s first 10-key electronic calculator. In 1967, the management slogan “cameras in the right hand, business machines in the left” was unveiled and in 1969 the company changed its name from Canon Camera Co., Inc. to Canon Inc. Canon took on the challenge of developing Japan’s first plain-paper copying machine, which it introduced in 1970, and realized further diversification from one challenging field to the next.

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Averting disaster with the Premier Company Plan

By 1970, Canon grew to 44.8 billion yen in sales and more than 5,000 employees. But hit by dollar and oil shocks, followed by problems with a defective electronic calculator display component in 1974, the company fell on hard times. In the first half of 1975, it failed to pay a dividend for the first time since becoming a public company. In 1976, Canon unveiled its Premier Company Plan, an ambitious strategy to transform Canon into an “excellent global company” through such means as introducing a vertical business group onstitution and establishing a horizontal development, production and sales system. The plan proposed high ideals and pooled the strength of its employees, enabling the company to promptly recover.3

Canon’s second inauguration

Canon continued to grow under the Premier Company Plan.
With the dawn of the personal computer age, Canon introduced to the world a series of products never before seen, among them a personal copying machine based on an all-in-one cartridge system, a laser printer with a semiconductor laser, and a Bubble Jet inkjet printer. Canon also began promoting global production in earnest on the road to becoming an excellent global company. Then, in 1988, the 51st anniversary of the company’s founding, Canon announced its second inauguration and unveiled its corporate philosophy of kyosei, an unfamiliar term at the time. It also began promoting such progressive and environmentally sound activities as toner cartridge recycling in addition to globalizing its development sites.

The Excellent Global Corporation Plan

Canon had developed unprecedented technologies and carefully nurtured them to create business opportunities and products unrivaled by any other company. But by the mid-1990s, the business division system that had been in place since the 1970s was showing signs of wear. Canon also carried debt of more than 840 billion yen, meaning the company needed to improve its financial constitution if it was to carry out long-term R&D projects and launch new businesses. Fujio Mitarai became Canon’s 6th company president in 1995, and in 1996 the Excellent Global Corporation Plan was launched. Transforming the corporate mindset from partial to total optimization and from a focus on sales to a focus on profits, the new plan was the start of the innovations that characterize today’s Canon.

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