Olympus Camera Company

   Olympus started in October 12, 1919.  Takeshi Yamashita, a lawyer by trade, founded the company.  Mr. Yamashita graduated in 1915 from Tokyo Imperial University Law School.  He joined the military and after serving for one year he was hired by the Tokiwa Shokai, a trading company.  Yamashita made a huge profit for Tokiwa Shokai through his investment in sugar trading.  Recognizing Yamashita’s efforts Tokiwa Shokai decided to reward him by providing funds for Yamashita to open up his own firm.  Takeshi Yamashita decided to base his firm on the domestic production of microscopes and he decided to open it with an old from his law school days, Shintaro Terada.

The Partner

   Shintaro Terada was the first in Japan to build microscopes using an industrial method.  He was so good at making microscopes that one of his microscopes was featured at the Taisho Expo in 1914.  At the Expo, Terada won the bronze prize.  After the Expo, Terada was financed by a Mr. Matsumoto of Iwashiya, a medical equipment firm, to build a microscope.  With this money Shintaro Terada, Mr. Matsumoto, and Mr. Kato (a friend) used all their names to form M&KATERA microscopes.  By working with M&KATERA microscopes Terada gained a sufficient amount of experience with microscopes.  So when Takeshi Yamashita approached Tareda to join his new company he readily accepted and was named the chief engineer of the new company.

New Name, New Microscopes

  With Shintaro Tareda aboard Yamashita named the company Takachiho Seisakusho its first logo was Tokiwa, not Olympus.  The first microscope that Takachiho Seisakusho made was sold in March of 1920.  It was called The Asahi and sold for about 125 yen.  It featured gunmetal, which was a zinc-bronze model.  It was the only microscope that featured this unique metal.

  The next microscope sold was named the Showa microscope in 1927. This microscope was the pinnacle of Takachiho Seisakusho microscope manufacturing.  It was marketed as an affordable, high quality, practical microscope.  This microscope allowed Takachiho Seisakusho to produce microscopes for the next few decades.  The Showa microscope was redesigned and sold after WWII.  It was renamed the GK, and remained in production until 1972.  

The Camera of the Gods

   With Takachiho Seisakusho success with microscopes they began to look to broadening their selection of products.  The company began to develop camera lenses in 1934.  In 1936 Takachiho Seisakusho unveiled its newest camera lens, the Zuiko Lens.  Along with the Zuiko lens, Takachiho Seisakusho unveiled its first camera the Semi-Olympus I.  This camera featured the Zuiko lens and was considered a high value camera because it was priced at 105 yen when most cameras during this era were priced at 75 yen.

   After the introduction of the Semi-Olympus I in 1936 Takachiho Seisakusho introduced several more medium format cameras.  These models included the Olympus six (1940), Olympus Chrome Six I (1948), and the Olympus Flex I (1952).  The Olympus six set the standard for the Olympus six series.  It had a maximum shutter speed of 1/200 seconds, and supported 6x6 and semi formats.  The Olympus Chrome Six I was made after the end of WWII.  It featured a die cast body, which increased its resilience and performance.  Along with these new model cameras the name of Takachiho Seisakusho was changed in 1942 to Takachiho Optical Co. Ltd.

   The next year on January 1, 1949, Takachiho Seisakusho, decided to change its name to Olympus.  The name Olympus was chosen because Mt. Olympus was the home of the Greek Gods. Mt. Olympus also shared similarities to a Japanese legend.  Mt. Takachiho is located in Japan.  At the peak of the mountain, Takamaghara, was the home of eight million gods and goddesses.  Takeshi Yameshita chose the name Olympus because he wanted to reflect his company’s dedication to creating world famous and high quality products.

A New Breed and a New Home

   Canon’s foray into the 35 MM camera format started in 1948 with the release of the Olympus 35I.  This camera was made to be compact, light, and able to be rapidly shot.  The Olympus 35I lived up to the promise of being able to shot fast so much that it earned the nickname of the “pickpocket camera”.  It was nicknamed this because of the quickness and efficiency of pickpockets when they rob their victims.  This feature made the Olympus 35I a very popular camera.  

   In 1953 Olympus moved to a new plant in Hatagaya, Tokyo and went into development of its next camera, the Olympus 35 S-3.5 in 1955.  This camera was designed to be a high-end version of the Olympus 35I.  It was one of the first Japanese cameras to feature a film advance lever.  It also featured a self-cocking mechanism that charged the film shutter as the film advanced as well as a coupled rangefinder.  That same year, Olympus also launched the Olympus Wide as an attempt to make a camera that shot at wide angles.  This became a wildly popular camera because of this feature and helped the wide-angle boom.

   The next camera that Olympus made was the Olympus Ace, which was released in 1958.  This was Japans first camera that featured exchangeable lenses.  There were three different lenses: the 45 MM, a wide angle 35 MM, and a telephoto 80 MM.

The Pen Series

   The next series that Olympus came out with was the Pen series.  Featured in the Pen series were the Olympus Pen (1959), Olympus Pen EE (1961), Olympus Pen D (1962), and the Olympus Pen F (1963).   The Pen series was lighter, smaller, featured a simple rear winding mechanism, Zuiko lenses, and a design that made it easy to use.  In total the Pen series sold over 17 million units.  The most successful and popular camera in this series was the Olympus Pen EE.  Olympus focused on efficiency with the Pen EE.  It featured a fixed focus, a shutter speed of 1/60 seconds, and an automatic exposure adjustment.  The Pen EE was so popular that Olympus made eight different models.

Electronic Eyes

   With the introduction of electrical exposure meters Olympus began to develop cameras electric eye cameras.  These cameras were the first cameras in the world to have electric eye.  The first camera in this new series was the Olympus Auto Eye, released in 1960.  Along with being the world’s first electric eye camera, they displayed the exposure value in the finder window.

   The Olympus TRIP 35 was released in 1968 and was very popular because of its ease of use and its compact size.  It was reliable and reasonably priced.  It was so popular that it sold for 20 years and 10 million were produced.

   In 1969 the Olympus 35SP was released.  It was the first camera to feature spot metering as well as averaged metering.  It featured both program AE and also manual photography.

The OM Series and a New Logo

   The OM series was designed to solve what Olympus thought the three major problems were with SLR cameras: size, weight, and the shutter/noise shock.  The OM series was able to take pictures of anything the photographer wanted to.  It was also the world’s lightest and most compact series of camera.  The reduction of weight was so important to this series of camera that the minutest of details, such as the replacement of brass screws to steel screws, was not overlooked.   Along with the development of the OM series a new logo was chosen to bring the company into a new era.

   The Olympus FTL was released in 1971.  This camera was the first Olympus camera to be marketed overseas.  It had six different lenses and had a 42 MM Practica mount.  It was not sold for very long because the OM-1 was released soon after.

   The OM-1 was the world’s lightest and most compact camera released in 1973.  It was also very reliable it was able to shoot 100,000 photographs.  This was the most popular camera of the OM series.  Olympus created a line of accessories that could be sold along with the OM-1.  

   After several more models of the OM series the OM707 was released in 1986.  This was the first Olympus AF SLR camera that had an auto winder.   Most of the features were automated.  It had eight lenses and a grip that featured pop-up strobe flash.

Digital, the Wave of the Future

   Olympus was one of the first companies to realize the potential of digital photography.  In 1996 the Camedia C-800L was released.  It was an 810,000-pixel camera and was easy to use as a compact camera.  It earned great reviews because of its easy use.  This started Olympus’s development of digital cameras.  Today Olympus still relies on its past by using its Zuiko lenses but has an eye to the future by developing an 8.0 mega-pixel SLR camera.  This dedication to high quality and innovative technology will ensure Olympus’s future.  Olympus has lived up to its namesake; it truly is the camera that Zeus himself would use.

Work Cited

Olypmus Website


History of Camera Companies