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Ibuka, Masaru - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Masaru Ibuka

sony company transistor radio

(1908-1997)
Sony Corporation

Overview

A pioneer in the electronics field, Masaru Ibuka, along with Akio Morita, founded the Sony Corporation as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K. K. (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company) in May of 1946. Ibuka paved the way for many of the inventions used in communications, overseeing the development of the transistor radio, transistor television, Sony Trinitron color television, home videotape recorder, Betamax videocassette system, and video projection system.

Personal Life

Masaru Ibuka was born April 11, 1908, in Nikko, Japan, in the Tochigi Prefecture, to Tasuku and Sawa (Furuta) Ibuka. He attended Waseda Senior High School and then went on to Waseda University, where he studied engineering. He obtained a bachelor of science degree in 1933. On December 20, 1936, he married Sekiko Maeda, who was the daughter of Tamon Maeda, an associate of Prince Fumimaro Konoe. This connection proved to be useful, since Konoe served a number of terms as prime minister of Japan. Ibuka and his wife had two daughters and a son but later divorced. On August 31, 1966, Ibuka married Yoshiko Kurosawa, his childhood sweetheart. The reunion won him a reputation for being quite romantic.

Ibuka enjoyed golf and writing and penned a biography of his friend Soichiro Honda, who founded the Honda car company. He was also interested in children and wrote a number of books on early childhood education, including The Zero-Year Child in 1970 and Kindergarten is Too Late in 1971. To promote science education in elementary and junior high schools, he used a corporate account to create the Sony Fund for Education. Active in a number of groups, Ibuka was chairman of the Boy Scouts of Nippon from 1985 to 1994. He was also a counselor for the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation (serving as president from 1972 to 1991) and president of the Japan Audio Society from 1979 to 1992. Ibuka suffered a sharp decline in health in 1992 and was confined to a wheelchair, but continued listening in on Sony company reports. He died on December 19, 1997 at his Tokyo home.

Ibuka was decorated by the emperor of Japan with the medal of honor with blue ribbon, 1960; the First Class Order of the Sacred Treasure, 1978; the First Class Order of the Rising Sun with the Grand Cordon, 1986; and the Order of Culture, 1992. Admired worldwide, Ibuka received the distinguished contribution award from the Institute of Telecommunication Engineers (ITE), 1964; Founders Medal, ITE, 1972; Gold Mercury Award from Italy, 1973; and Commander First Class of the Royal Order of the Polar Star from the King of Sweden, 1986, all for his work in the field of electronics. He also held several honorary doctorates.

Career Details

After completing his degree in 1933, Ibuka got a job as a research engineer with the Photo-Chemical Laboratory, a firm that recorded and processed motion picture film. That same year, he won a prize at the Paris Exhibition for his modulated light transmission system, a form of neon light. Hailed as a genius, he was already showing signs of the great innovations that were to come. Ibuka later worked at Japan Optico-Acoustical Engineering Company as the chief of the radio section from 1937 to 1940, then served as managing director and chief engineer at the Japan Measuring Instruments Company during World War II, from 1940 to 1945. There, he created an amplifier that made it possible to locate submarines from an aircraft. He also helped work on research for heat-seeking missiles. During his wartime service he met Akio Morita, a representative of the Imperial Navy, and the two stayed in contact after the war ended.

In 1946 Ibuka set up the Tokyo Telecommunications Research Laboratories in a bombed-out department store in the Nihonbashi area of the city. Soon, Morita, who was also a physicist, joined the fledgling operation. With a staff of 20, they began by repairing electronics while trying to come up with their own products. They worked with recent technology, such as magnetic tape, trying to develop uses for it. Around 1949 or 1950 they made the world’s first tape recorder, weighing in at 75 pounds. They sold it to a noodle company to entertain the customers, but it would be years before the machine would fully catch on.

As the company grew, Ibuka was named president in 1950 and continued to spearhead designs, including the transistor radio, the Trinitron color television, and video recording. The company changed its name to Sony Corporation in 1958, after the word “sonar” or its Latin root, “sonus.” In 1971, Ibuka took the position of chairman, then in 1976 became honorary chairman. In 1994, he was bestowed the respectful title of founder and chief advisor.

Social and Economic Impact

Before the creation of Sony, Japanese manufacturing had a bad reputation. Goods produced by Japanese electronics firms were considered cheap imitations of American or European products. But Sony changed that perception. Ibuka, together with Morita, built Sony into a world leader in electronics.

Ibuka, realizing he lacked management and business savvy, made Morita chairman of the company so Ibuka could concentrate on attracting bright and imaginative talent to the firm. Rather than recruiting only the top graduates, Ibuka looked for people who were “neyaka,” which loosely translates as optimistic, open-minded, and possessing a great range of interests. “I’ve never had much use for specialists,” Ibuka noted in Fortune in 1992. “Specialists are inclined to argue why you can’t do something, while our emphasis has always been to make something out of nothing.” Throughout its history, Sony has encouraged its employees to move around within the corporation to prevent stagnation and cocky attitudes. The company has also focused on products that were more than just handy. In Ibuka’s obituary on the Sony web site, company president Nobuyuki Idei remarked, “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.”

Ibuka’s first big breakthrough came with the transistor radio in the mid-1950s. Subscribing to the theory that function follows form, Ibuka wanted to create a handheld portable radio. An American firm, Western Electric, held the patent for transistors but claimed that the technology was only useful in hearing aids. Ibuka, however, figured he could use transistors in radios and licensed the technology. The TR-55 transistor radio first appeared sometime around 1955 and was an instant hit. Sony soon set up production facilities in the United States, Great Britain, Holland, Hong Kong, and other nations. The invention made headlines when Japan’s Prime Minister Eisakiu Sato presented French Prime Minister Charles de Gaulle with one of the radios as a gift, prompting de Gaulle to label him “the transistor salesman.”

Sony followed the transistor radio with success after success, blazing a trail that other companies would follow. Sony developed innovative and popular new products that other electronics firms began to copy. In 1960, for instance, Ibuka’s team manufactured the first transistor television set, which featured the round screen and simple design that became one of the symbols of the 1950s retro look. Another major innovation was the Sony Trinitron, introduced in 1968, which greatly improved the technology of color television. Ibuka led the research and development team on that project.

In 1965, Sony began selling the first consumer video tape recorder, and in 1971, Ibuka helped devise color video projection. In 1975, Sony rolled out the Sony Betamax, the world’s first home video recording system, after Ibuka insisted to engineers that it must be no larger than a paperback book. Although Betamax was eventually phased out in favor of the longer-playing VHS, Ibuka is remembered as a vanguard in home video. He was also instrumental in producing various semiconductor devices, which allowed the manufacture of miniature components.

Chronology: Masaru Ibuka

1908: Born.

1933: Graduated from Waseda University.

1933: Invented a modulated-light transmission system.

1946: Founded Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corp. (changed to Sony Corp in 1958).

1949: Developed magnetic recording tapes.

1952: Obtained license for transistors from Western Electric Co.

1967: Supervised development of Trinitron Color Television.

1971: Became chairman of Sony Corp.

1976: Named honorary chairman of Sony Corp.

1997: Died.

Though Ibuka stepped back to become honorary chairman of Sony in 1976, his ideas have lived on. In 1979, the Sony Corporation first introduced the Walkman portable headset stereo, which has become a mainstay in American culture. With NV Philips, a Dutch company, Sony developed the compact disc audio system, which would replace the larger and less durable LPs as the preferred medium for music. The first CD player came out in 1982, and in 1984, the world saw the Sony Discman for the first time, which was the CD version of its popular Walkman. In 1983, Sony marketed the first consumer camcorder, followed by the first digital VTR in 1985. Sony’s holdings now also include a music recording company, magazines, games, movies, and video. The list of contributions that Sony will provide the world will undoubtedly grow, thanks to the far-seeing Ibuka and his commitment to fun.

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about 5 years ago

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about 5 years ago

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almost 6 years ago

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