The Yamaha Piano Company

The Yamaha Piano Company

By James Grebe

     On April 20,1851 Torakuso Yamaha, the third son of a prominent Samurai, was born. His father was a surveyor by trade and an astronomer by avocation. In his early years his family tutored him with in mathematics, engineering, and the scientific method. Because of the agrarian society around him, this certainly set him apart form his peers. It was in 1854 that Admiral Perry sailed in Tokyo harbor to open up the country to trade with the rest of the world. Torakuso was an enthusiastic member of the Nenjji (enlightened) restoration with its opportunities for technological growth. In 1871n he traveled to Nagasaki to study watch making with a British engineer. After several years he began making his own watches, but his business soon failed.

Yamaha then apprenticed himself to a medical school building and maintaining medical equipment. In just 2 years he became proficient and joined a medical supplier in Osaka and occasionally traveled to Hamamatsu where he repaired medical equipment for the hospital. One day in 1887 at the hospital where he was working the Mson & Hamlin Reed Organ malfunctioned. This organ was the priced and joy because of the world wide fame of Mason & Hamlin. It was suggested that Torakuso be called in to see if he could repair it because of his reputation for his great mechanical aptitude. He was at once fascinated with the instrument and afterwards successfully repaired it. After repairing it he made detailed drawings of it ‘s works. He was intrigued not by the music it produced but by it's commercial potential in a fast growing westernized culture. Western style music caught on fast in Japan and in 1879 the government gave official sponsorship to western music. At the time the Toyo Music Academy was begun and equipped with 6 Mason & Hamlin Reed Organs and 5 Steinway upright pianos as well as a full compliment of stringed instruments. Attempting to serve the burgeoning music market Yamaha settled in Hamamatsu to build Japans first reed organs. In 1888 he employed 7 people full time building these organs. He envisioned a systematic division of labor and organized the building into 7 basic groups assembling the organs. By 1890 he employed 100 workmen and was producing 250 organs a year. In 1891 he entered into a agreement with Kyouki Trading Company and with the Niki Musical Instrument Company who aggressively promoted the reed organs for use in the schools. Later the same year, the factory burned down caused by a fierce internal struggle. Not everyone liked the western ideas of musical instruments. In 1899 he bought out his other investors and had total control of his company. By 1895 he was producing over 2,000 organs a year and was the market leaders. Things were about to change with the introduction of the upright piano began. The upright could be built cheaper than the squasre grand and its style was preferred for the home so in 1897 he laid the groundwork for pianos. He sold more stock to raise capital and changed the name of the company to Nippon Gakki Co. He built a larger plant and developed tooling got his piano making. He traveled to America and visited the Chickering factory as well as Mason & Hamlin.. Shortly after his return he got orders to build his first pianos. A young man named K. Kawai was in charge of building his first pianos and the first year had built 2. In 1903 he was up to 23 pianos and in 1908 he built his first grand piano. He even sent one of his pianos to the St. Louis Worlds Fair in 1904 in Forest Park where he received an honorary prize. By 192 he was up to 1000 employees and 10,000 reed organs and 1,200 pianos a year. In 1914 he began producing the "Butterfly" brand of harmonicas and Yamaha began to diversify. It had begun to give Japan its first major export. Because of the Hohner harmonica was made in Germany his harmonicas got a windfall of sales in WW. In 1916 Torakuso died suddenly leaving a void that became filled with the same enterprising spirit as Torakuso. In 1930, the company brought in engineers form Bechstein to assist in research and development. They were paid lavish salaries and paved the way for better-designed instruments. WW just about destroyed everything but with the help of the Occupational Forces, they began production of harmonicas, followed by reed organs and on April 1,1947 the first pre-war piano. In 1955 the first Yamaha motorcycles were built and in 1961 the first pianos were imported into America. Success continues.

Yamaha has become a leader in technology with their Disklavier player pianos and are among the leaders in mating computers with acoustic instruments

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