Canon history

Our history

Canon started out as a company with a handful of employees and a burning passion. That company soon became a world-renowned camera maker and is now a global multimedia corporation. With over 60 years of technological expertise under our belt, our passion remains unchanged. Canon will continue using its technologies to benefit people as it pursues its objective of becoming a company that is loved by people throughout the world.

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. Back then, 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 to produce a high-quality Japanese camera, marking the beginning of Canon. Through hard work and an enterprising spirit, they succeeded in building a prototype, which was named Kwanon after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Then in 1935, Japan's first-ever 35 mm focal-plane-shutter camera, the Hanza Canon, was born, marking the origins of the Canon brand.

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. Mitarai reinforced his respect for humanity by stressing the importance of the Sanji, or "three selfs" spirit, the guiding principle for Canon employees. In 1955, Canon made its mark in 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 topped 50% of the company's total sales.

The challenge of diversification

Soon after its establishment, 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. Its plan to further diversification was realised by stepping from one challenging field to the next.

Averting disaster with the Premium Company Plan

By 1970, Canon grew to 44.8 billion yen in sales, with a staff strength of 5,000 employees. However, a series of dollar and oil shocks, followed by problems with a defective electronic calculator display component in 1974, turned up serious trouble for Canon. And for the first half of 1975, Canon failed to pay a dividend for the first time since it became a public company. In 1976, Canon unveiled its Premier Company Plan, an ambitious strategy to transform Canon into an "excellent global company" through means such as introducing a vertical business group constitution 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.

Canon's second inauguration

Canon continued to grow under the Premier Company Plan. With the dawn of the personal computer age, Canon introduced a series of products never before seen. The products included a personal copying machine based on an all-in-one cartridge system, a laser printer with semiconductor laser, and a Bubble Jet inkjet printer. At the same time, Canon began its drive towards globalisation through global production. 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 progressive and environmentally-sound activities, such as toner cartridge recycling in addition to globalising its development sites.

The Excellent Global Corporation Plan

Canon 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 incurred debts of more than 840 billion yen, signaling the company's need to improve its financial constitution; should it wish to carry out long-term R&D projects and launch new businesses. Fujio Mitarai became Canon's sixth company president in 1995, and in 1996 the Excellent Global Corporation Plan was launched. Transforming the corporate mindset from partial to total optimisation and a switch in focus from sales to profits, the new plan marked the start of innovations that characterised the Canon that we know today.