The story begun in the year 1867 when Ikichi and Ei Toyoda had a son named Sakichi, born on the 14th of February in Yamaguchi, Tōtōmi Province (present-day Kosai, Shizuoka). Ikichi Toyoda became an inventor, industrialist and legend of Japan’s industrialization.

Passion for perfection – The Story of Toyota, chapter 1

Sakichi’s birth and early upbringing coincided with that period in Japanese history when the shogunate was replaced by a new government under the Meiji Emperor. That period was generally regarded as the beginning of modern Japan. In the middle of social upheavals, the entire village where Sakichi lived was plagued with poverty. Ikichi Toyoda was a farmer and also worked as a carpenter to support his family and his community. Many people relied on him. Sakichi looked up to his father’s work and began working as an assistant to his father in carpentry trade, immediately after having graduated from elementary school. 

At the age of 14 to 15, Sakichi began to think about ways in which he could both be useful to the people around him and serve his country.

On days when there was no carpentry, Sakichi would diligently read newspapers and magazinesthat kept him informed of the political situation not only in his country but of the world at large. This prompted him to organise local youths in the community by getting together in an evening study group to promote knowledge sharing of current affairs and self-learning.

In 1885, he turned 18 and learnt of the newly enacted Patent Monopoly Act. The new developments ignited the zeal to participate in changes. This prompted Sakichi to study the Act carefully and quickly became convinced that he had found his way forward. He dreamt of adding the necessary values to his family and society through inventions. He then decided to tap into his own wisdom and devoted his utmost efforts towards inventions as a means of creating something new, by stating, “Western civilization is based upon machinery. Machines are driven by steam. Steam-powered machinery requires coal which is expensive. Some methods must be forced to replace steam as the motive force.” – Sakichi Toyoda.

Sakichi experimented on various ways on trying to live up to his statement which did not work until a thought of improving Hand Loom came to his mind. He worked in a barn, built and destroyed a number of looms which made most people to think of him as being strange, yet he was never bothered.

At the time the Japanese government called for inventors’ no one answered the call faster than Sakichi Toyoda. He did a lot of research regarding acceptability and value addition to the Japanese economy.  In his early 20s (1887 to be exact), Sakichi Toyoda knew well that his first invention would be to improve the loom and to progress his family’s lifestyle.

In the autumn of 1891 at the age of 24, Sakichi Toyoda’s first successful invention known as Toyoda Wooden Hand Loom was accomplished and was awarded with his first patent. Through successful inventions, Sakichi Toyoda launched the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works which was the engineering and manufacturing company in 1926. It earned him the signature of “Father of the Japanese industrial revolution”. He also introduced Toyota Industries Company Ltd, invented numerous textile-focused weaving devices and innovative fuelling systems which were used to power his Toyoda-branded machines. Looking for continuous improvements was Sakichi’s way of life!

Unlike previous looms, the Toyoda Wooden Hand Loom required only one hand to operate instead of two. It removed the unevenness of the woven fabric thus improving quality. It increased efficiency by 40 to 50 percent. Nonetheless, the Loom was still manually powered. This limited further improvements in terms of speed and overall efficiency. This unproductivity made Sakichi to dedicate his attention to the invention of a Power Loom.

In 1892, Sakichi started a small factory in Tokyo’s Taito Ward that used several of the Toyoda Wooden Hand Looms. He did this for numerous reasons; Sakichi needed financial resources to support his career and desired financial independence and stability to better pursue his inventing path. He also thought that he would be able to confidently recommend his inventions to customers by using it himself to confirm its superior performance.

Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd. Sets Sail

In the year 1926, on November 17, began the success of the development of the Automatic Loom, by Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd. (now Toyota Industries Corporation) which was exhibited at the head office of Toyoda Boshoku in Nagoya City. Toyoda Automatic Loom Works’ establishment was officially registered the following day on November 18, 1926. Risaburo Toyoda, Sakichi’s son-in-law, was named President and Kiichiro, Toyoda Sakichi’s son became the Managing Director. Sakichi’s unprecedented concept that originated from his experiences tailored major objectives of the company which was based on pursuing related invention and research.

Notably, Sakichi’s most famous invention was the Automatic Power Loom, which he implemented the principle of Jidoka (autonomous automation). The principle of Jidoka, meant that the machine stops itself when a problem occurs, which became later a part of the Toyota Production System. Sakichi really lived up to being the father of industrial revolution as he also developed the concept of 5 Whys: When a problem occurs, ask “why” five times to try to find the source of the problem, then put in place something to prevent the problem from recurring. This concept is still being used today as part of applying lean methodologies to solve problems, improve quality, and reduce costs.

Sakichi Toyoda passed away in October 1930, having devoted his 63 years to invention. To commemorate the company founder, who was the spiritual support of all Toyoda companies, a monument was constructed on the first anniversary of his passing and a bust of Sakichi was erected on the fifth anniversary.

His son, Kiichiro Toyoda, inherited his father’s legacy and later establish Japan’s largest automaker, Toyota.  Sakichi Toyoda has been given several befitting titles some of which have been referred to as the “King of Japanese Inventor” and “Father of the Japanese industrial revolution”. 

This has been a brief history of Sakichi Toyoda – the Legend (February 14, 1867 – October 30, 1930).