HISTORY OF HITACHI: FOUNDERS DAY, FROM 1910
The multinational conglomerate Hitachi, Ltd., traces its history back to Namihei Odaira, a 19th-century pioneering electrical engineer. In Japan, during the Meiji Era of the late 1800s, with the move from a feudal society to an industrialized nation-state, the country wanted to take their place among the nations of the world with modern scientific technology. Because most electrical machinery was imported into Japan from other countries, Odaira wanted to develop home-grown technology “for the advancement of Japanese industry.”
In 1906 in the Ibaraki Prefecture of the Kanto region of Japan, about 90 km from Tokyo, Odaira worked at the newly opened Hitachi Mine repairing electric machinery. He also began developing hydroelectric power plants and railways for the mine. Although the mine is now closed, during its 70-year history, it was the oldest known ore deposit and one of Japan’s richest copper mines.
Electrical Power Supply
Odaira grew his engineering organization and developed a five-horsepower electric induction motor, the first of its kind. That same year, in 1910, he formed the Hitachi Works company. His type of manufacturing was previously unheard of in Japan, and despite the initial resistance to “made-in-Japan” products, Odaira’s continual enhancement of the quality and technical sophistication of his manufactured articles led to an eventual distinction in the market. World War I restricted the availability of machinery from Europe into Asia. With an opening in the market, Odaira was able to get an order for his hydroelectric generator.
Decades later, Hitachi gained prominence in developing transportation in Japan after World War II. Building train vehicles aided in the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure. Advances in coal mining technologies and other mining tools led to leadership in the transportation industry extending into the present day.
Hitachi’s industry-scale fertilizer production equipment enhanced agricultural productivity. Iron production, hydroelectric power generation, and chemical plants led to increased economic development into the ’50s and ’60s. Water and wastewater treatment plants along with other agricultural equipment contributed to further infrastructure improvements. Hitachi produced rolling stock as well as a computer-aided traffic control system for the world’s fastest railway in its day, the Tokaido Shinkansen “bullet train.”
Hitachi produced in Japan the first transistor-based computer for business use in 1959. Following this breakthrough, Hitachi advanced their railway seat reservation service, larger computer systems, and electronic switching equipment. Hitachi developed Japan’s first supercomputer in 1983, renowned worldwide; the New York Times announced it:
Hitachi Ltd. says it will put its new supercomputer on display by the end of September…. Supercomputers, which generally cost $10 million or more, are designed for the highspeed processing of huge mathematical calculations, such as those used in scientific research.
Late 20th Century
With world prominence, Hitachi in the ’90s developed the most advanced microcontrollers and memory devices. Hitachi developed technologies to advance office automation equipment, home appliances, and automobiles as well as heavy equipment and tool production.
Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) was founded in the US in 1989 when Hitachi partnered with Electronic Data Systems (EDS) to acquire National Advanced Systems (NAS) from National Semiconductor. HDS sold both IBM-compatible mainframes as well as storage systems in the US market. In the ’90s with the decline of the mainframe market, HDS bought out EDS and dedicated itself to enterprise-scale storage systems. At the same time, HDS became more of a global company beyond the US. Greater involvement from Hitachi Japan introduced the Hitachi Culture based on Wa, Makoto, and Kaitakushi Seishin… Harmony, Sincerity, and Pioneering Spirit.
I recall in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was working for a Silicon Valley computer company, that “made-in-Japan” was no longer a term of derision; it now meant the highest quality electronic components, and at that time was the only place to obtain premium DRAM chips for microcomputer manufacturing.
Following the acquisition of several technology companies, most notably Pentaho big data and analytics, the company reformed itself as Hitachi Vantara in 2017. Since then, the company has expanded its focus. In addition to its enterprise-scale storage systems of Virtual Storage Platform and Hitachi Content Platform — for object store archiving and multi-cloud integration — Hitachi Vantara also includes AI and Machine Learning technologies to enable Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to empower smart spaces, government, and retail.
In the 21st century, Hitachi has combined its century-long expertise in Operational Technology (OT) with its half-century prowess in Information Technology (IT) to lead the IoT Era. A focus on global-scale social challenges with Hitachi’s Social Innovation initiatives addresses electric power, transportation, production equipment, and urban infrastructure challenges to create smart buildings, smart campuses, and smart cities.
As Hitachi Vantara has transformed from US-only to global, from mainframe to storage, from hardware to software and services, it has taken its place as a leader in innovation on the global stage.
Factoids: Hitachi provides:
- 98% of Operating Room ultrasound machines by OEM agreement
- Parts for almost every automaker
- 33% of the parts for Nissan’s Leaf car
- Sensors for many self-driving cars
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian