From the ashes of World War II to the biggest Japanese conglomerate by size. Sony are an iconic brand whose products are likely to be found within many of our homes. So, to celebrate their 75th birthday let’s take a look at some of their story.
In September 1945, Masaru Ibuka opened a radio repair shop in Tokyo. His mate, Akio Morita joined him in on the 7th of May 1946 and they founded the company Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K. Their first product was Japan’s first tape recorder, the Type-G. These were Sony’s humble beginnings. Two ordinary men picking up the pieces in a bomb-damaged Tokyo.
Their next big step came in the early 50s when Ibuka and Morita showed their skills as innovators. When Ibuka travelled to the US to sell their tape recorder, he discovered the invention of the transistor. A transistor was a device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. Basically, as it relates to radio, it was an amplifier.
Anyway, Ibuka managed to convince the inventors of the transistor, Bell Labs, to license the technology to his company. Bell Labs recommended that Ibuka use them to make hearing aids as that’s what they were mostly used for at the time. They also told him that it would be difficult to apply the technology to radio.
Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo weren’t the first ones to build a transistor radio, that goes to the joint efforts of Regency Electronics and Texas Instruments in 1954. What they did do was make it commercial success for the first time. The pair made the TR-55, Japan’s first commercially produced transistor radio in August 1955.
They cemented their success in December of that year by releasing the TR-72 which was an even bigger seller. It sounded better for one and became popular in markets outside of Japan including Australia, Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands. It was a best-seller until the early 60s!
University of Arizona professor Michael Brian Schiffer, PhD, said of the time,
“Sony was not the first, but its transistor radio was the most successful. The TR-63 of 1957 cracked open the U.S market and launched the new industry of consumer microelectronics.”
In the mid-1950s the way people began listening to music was changing. You now could listen to music in private rather than being forced to listen to music wherever the large old radio was plugged into. American teens were buying these portable radios in massive numbers, from 100,000 units in 1955 to 5,000,000 units by 1968.
After their success in America, the company changed its name to Sony in 1958, in order for it to be easily pronounced in markets outside of Japan. Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo was a bit of a mouthful and a lot of people struggled to pronounce it.
In 1960, Sony established the Sony Corporation of America, their first subsidiary.
While business was good, it was about to get even better. In 1968, Sony launched the Trinitron, a colour television set. This TV was praised for its bright images which were about 25% brighter than its competition. Sony constantly improved this TV and because the quality of the build was quite high, Sony charged a premium for these bad boys until the 1990s when their patent protection ran out.
Sony didn’t remove these TVs from their catalogues until 2006! And they didn’t stop production on them until 2008. The Trinitron was the reason that Sony was the largest TV manufacturer until 2006, when they stopped making it. The Trinitron was so loved that it won an Emmy in 1975. Yes, an Emmy. A TV won a television award. I suppose it makes sense, but this was the first time an Emmy was awarded to an electronic.
Ibuka said in 1992, on his 84th birthday, that the Trinitron was the product he was most proud of. I can see why, a fantastic piece of equipment that earned its price tag due to its overall quality. What’s not to be proud of?
In 1975, Sony launched the Betamax which was meant to compete in the video format war against VHS. Considering you know one of those names, it should be no surprise to you that Sony lost this war and Betamax quickly became a defunct item.
Sony changed the way we listen to music once again by creating the Walkman, the first stereo cassette player in 1979. According to The Verge, ‘the world changed’ on the day the Walkman released. It was an icon of the 80s.
“Unprecedented combination of portability (it ran on two AA batteries) and privacy (it featured a headphone jack but no external speaker) made it the ideal product for thousands of consumers looking for a compact portable stereo that they could take with them anywhere.”
The word ‘Walkman’ entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986, that’s how popular this thing was! Sure, it fell apart once CDs and eventually, the iPod came around, but Sony were the first and will always be remembered as such.
It was in 1979 as well that Sony started its first forays into markets outside of electronics by establishing Sony Life Insurance. The company expanded further by purchasing CBS records in 1988 and Columbia Pictures in 1989. This really established Sony as something more than just an electronic goods producer. They became what was described as a corporate octopus.
Because Sony were making CDs, video game company Nintendo asked Sony if they could make a CD-ROM for the Super Nintendo. Because the two companies couldn’t come to an agreement as to how the revenue would be split, the partnership disintegrated. Sony was furious with Nintendo and decided they would take what they learnt from Nintendo and make their own video game console. This time with blackjack and hookers.
When the original PlayStation came out in Japan on the 3rd of December 1994 and 1995 for the rest of the world, it blew everyone away. It had critical acclaim and strong sales becoming the first computer entertainment platform to ship over 100 million units.
The new millennium was not the kindest to Sony. The TV business was no longer working out for them as they reported major losses. The Trinitron was out of date and Sony’s replacements were being outdone by their competitors in either price or performance. Sony seemed to be lacking direction and the only thing keeping them going was the consistent performance of their gaming sector.
Management at Sony decided that they would focus on three major areas in 2012. Because at this point Sony had so many different parts that it was becoming difficult for the company to direct its efforts. The three major areas were imaging technology, gaming, and mobile technology. The mobile section… didn’t really work out. But the PlayStation continued to pull in massive numbers.
Obviously now we know that Sony is doing fine but for the most part that seems to be attributed to their success in the gaming sector. The PlayStation 4 was one of the best-selling consoles of all time and now their new PlayStation 5 seems to be on track to meet those same standards and maybe even surpass them. But it is still very early days.
This has been an extremely abridged version of their story because their 75-year history could fill up an entire book. But now you hopefully know at least a little bit more about the company.