"Mr. Ibuka has been at the heart of Sony's philosophy. He has sowed the seeds of deep conviction that our products must bring joy and fun to users. Mr. Ibuka always asked himself what was at the core of 'making things,' and thought in broad terms of how these products could enhance people's lives and cultures." --Nobuyuki Idei, president of Sony, in a statement after Ibuka's death
Masaru Ibuka could well be the person who turned Japan's electronics industry into what it is today. He was co-founder of a tiny recording company that grew into the giant Sony Corporation. But perhaps more importantly, he led the Japanese charge to make their own innovative electronic products instead of simply copying what was being done in the West. He brought transistor technology to Japan, and Sony built the first Japanese transistor radio and the world's first transistorized television set.
Ibuka was born in 1908 in Nikko City, Japan. He attended the School of Science and Engineering at Waseda University where he earned the nickname "genius inventor." When he graduated in 1933 he began working at Photo-Chemical Laboratory which recorded and processed movie film.
In 1945, after World War II, Ibuka left to start a radio repair shop in a bombed-out building in Tokyo. The next year he was joined by his colleague Akio Morita, and they founded a company called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K., which translates in English to Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation. The company built Japan's first tape recorder called the Type-G.
In the early 1950s, Ibuka was traveling in the United States and heard about Bell's invention of the transistor. He convinced Bell to license the transistor technology to his Japanese company (this is a testament both to Ibuka's persistence and scientists' openness to sharing information even so soon after the war). While most American companies researched the transistor for its military applications, Ibuka envisioned using it for communications. While Regency and Texas Instruments in the US may have built a transistor radio first, it was the Tokyo company that really invested the radio as a viable commercial product. Ibuka's company -- now named Sony, a combination of the Latin word for sound "sonus" and the chic Japanese boys of the time nicknamed "sonny" -- quickly took over the market.
Ibuka led Sony in directions that were unusual for a Japanese company at the time, as they tried to create more of their own products instead of simply modifying Western technology. In 1976, Ibuka stepped down as chairman of Sony, though he retained close connections with company as an advisor until he died of heart failure on December 19, 1997.
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