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automobile company founder
Soichiro Honda was born on November 17, 1906, in Konyo Village (now Tenryu City), Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. His father was a talented blacksmith who also repaired bicycles, and Soichiro had become a fairly accomplished mechanic in his own right by a relatively early age.
In 1922, Honda became an apprentice at Tokyo Art Shokai, an automobile servicing company in Tokyo, where he learned how to work on a wide range of automobiles and motorcycles. The company began making race cars in 1923, and on November 23, 1924, one of its race cars won the Fifth Japan Automobile Competition, with Honda as engineer. Honda completed his apprenticeship in April of 1928 and soon after opened a branch of Art Shokai in Hamamatsu. Before long the Hamamatsu branch was doing far more than basic repairs -- it made dump trucks and converted buses so they could carry larger numbers of passengers, among other things. To make it easier to work on the underside of a car, Honda invented a lift-type of automobile repair stand.
Honda's racing career took a disastrous turn on June 7, 1936, when he crashed during a race at Tamagawa Speedway. Soichiro wasn't seriously hurt, but his younger brother and mechanic, Benjiro, was badly injured. Although the accident failed to dampen his racing spirit, he finally gave up driving in October, at the insistence of both his wife and father.
Also in 1936, Honda established the Tokai Seiki Heavy Industry to manufacture piston rings, and the Art Piston Research Center to do research on piston rings. When the first batches of piston rings produced failed to meet quality standards, Honda enrolled at the Hamamatsu Industrial Institute (now the Faculty of Engineering at Shizuoka University) to improve his knowledge of metallurgy and manufacturing techniques. The extra training finally paid off in 1939, and he subsequently turned the Art Shokai Hamamatsu branch over to trainees and became president of Tokai Seiki.
After Japan formally entered World War II, Tokai Seiki was placed under the control of the Ministry of Munitions. Toyota took over 40% of the company's equity in 1942, and Honda became senior managing director. Because the majority of the company's workforce was by then women, Honda took pains to personally calibrate all of the machines and simplified the manufacturing process so that the women could do their jobs with the greatest efficiency possible. He also began devising ways to automate the production of piston rings. At the request of Nippon Gakki (now Yamaha), Honda invented an automatic milling machine for wooden aircraft propellors that made it possible for Nippon Gakki to turn out two propellers every thirty minutes. During the latter years of the war, Tokai Seiki's Hamamatsu and Yamashita plants were both destroyed, and, on January 13, 1945, the Iwata plant was levelled by an earthquake. Honda sold what was left of the company to Toyota later that same year.
In 1946, Honda established the Honda Technical Research Institute, which initially built motorized bicycles using small war-surplus engines. The company became Honda Motor on September 24, 1948, and began manufacturing motorcycles. The Cub was launched in 1952, and by the end of that year accounted for 70% of Japan's motorcycle production. The C100 Super Cub was released in 1958, and quickly became an international bestseller. In 1959, a Honda motorcycle took the manufacturer's team prize in the Isle of Man race. Honda motorcycles were introduced into the United States that same year, and Honda was the best-selling motorcycle brand in the United States by 1963.
Honda began manufacturing automobiles in the early 1960's, took first-place in the Mexican Grand Prix in 1965, and racked up several Formula 2 wins in 1966.
Soichiro Honda stepped down as president of Honda in 1973. He died of liver failure on August 5, 1991.
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This page was last updated on June 11, 2017.