By Michael Fontanini / September 24th, 2014
Yesterday (September 23rd, 2014) was Nintendo’s 125th birthday. But wait, that doesn’t sound right does it? And you’ve never heard of Nintendo’s games from the late 1800s right? Well, rest assured that Nintendo has indeed been around for 125 years, but in the beginning they were not a video game company. So, to celebrate this anniversary, let’s take a look at the history of the gaming giant, Nintendo.
Nintendo was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi on September 23, 1889 as a playing card company. At the time the company went by the name of Nintendo Koppai (Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd.). Based in Kyoto, Japan, Yamauchi’s new company produced a new card game called Hanafuda. As his handmade cards became popular, he hired more assistants to help meet the increasing demand. Nintendo still produces Hanafuda cards in Japan today, and even has its own contract bridge tournament called the “Nintendo Cup”.
From 1956 to 1974, Nintendo would embark on some new business ventures. In 1956, Fusajiro Yamauchi’s grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi, visited America to meet with the United States Playing Card Company, which was the dominant playing card company in the country and the biggest company in the playing card business. But he found they were working out of a small office, and realizing the limitations of this business he decided to branch out. He gained access to Disney characters and began putting them on cards to improve sales.
In 1963, the company was renamed from Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. to Nintendo Co., Ltd. With some capital injected into the company, it began experimenting with some other business ventures, including a taxi company, a love hotel chain, a TV network, a food company, and more. Unfortunately, all of these ventures failed, and card sales dropped in 1964 after the Tokyo Olympics.
In 1966, Nintendo would throw its hat in the ring in the Japanese toy industry. Their first product was the Ultra Hand, which was an extendable hand invented by the company’s maintenance engineer, Gunpei Yokoi, who would then become a product developer in their “Nintendo Games” department. Club Nintendo members may be familiar with the Ultra Hand as it is featured in the Club Nintendo exclusive game Grill Off with Ultra Hand. During this time, Nintendo would produce other popular toys, including the Ultra Machine, Love Tester, and a series of light gun games called Kousenjuu. The Love Tester may seem familiar to Pikmin fans as it has appeared in that series as a treasure item.
In 1973, the company changed its focus to family entertainment venues. Setting up laser clay shooting ranges in abandoned bowling alleys using the technology used from their Kousenjuu light gun series of games, Nintendo found some success. They would also develop some light gun machines for the emerging Arcade scene. Ultimately though, they would be forced to shut down their laser clay shooting games because of excessive costs. It was not all bad though, as Nintendo had found itself a new market.
Nintendo’s Electronics Era
This is when the Nintendo we know today starts to take shape. 1974 to 1978 would see Nintendo’s electronics era really get going. In 1974, Nintendo made their first foray into the video games industry by securing distribution rights for the Magnavox Odyssey game console. Just three years later, in 1977, Nintendo began producing their own hardware with the Color TV-Game console. Four versions of the console were produced, each including variations of a single game.
Around this time, Nintendo would hire a student product developer whose name is very familiar to many Nintendo fans: Shigeru Miyamoto. He started out working for Gunpei Yokoi designing the casing for some of the Color-TV Game consoles. Miyamoto would of course go on to create, direct and produce some of Nintendo’s most well-known video games, and in the process become a legendary game designer. However, it wouldn’t be until a few years later, in 1984, when Nintendo would gain their legendary composer and sound director, Koji Kondo. He is famous for many of the music pieces he has created for The Legend of Zelda series, among many others.
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