26 minute read

Minolta Co., Ltd. Business Information, Profile, and History

3-13, Azuchi-machi 2-chome
Chuo-ku, Osaka 541

Company Perspectives:

Looking to the future, Minolta has adopted a new articulation of its corporate mission. First, the Company aims to contribute to the global community by creating ever-greater value and excellence. Responding to the demands of the coming decade, we plan to help build a more abundant society by offering superior products and services and complementing them with additional benefits. Second, Minolta is dedicated to continuously creating and implementing vision-oriented management strategies designed to ensure the Company's ability to maintain the stable development of the Minolta Group into a more vital organization that provides opportunity for individual fulfillment.

History of Minolta Co., Ltd.

Minolta Co., Ltd. is one of Japan's "big five" camera makers and a leading manufacturer of digital office equipment, including photocopiers, printers, word processors and other imaging products, radiometric instruments, and planetariums. The company has production facilities in Japan, the United States, Germany, France, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, and Brazil, and a worldwide marketing network.

1928: Japan-Germany Camera Company Begins to Build Cameras

Minolta Co., Ltd. began modestly in 1928 when 28-year-old Kazuo Tashima agreed to represent his father's import-export company, Tashima Shoten, on a government-backed trade mission to Paris to promote Japanese silk. In Paris, Tashima toured a factory that specialized in high-grade optics, and decided he could produce similar equipment profitably in Japan. Japanese businessmen, including Tashima's father, opposed the idea of producing optical equipment domestically. Unable to start his new venture as a part of Tashima Shoten, Tashima borrowed money from his father's chief clerk and went into business on his own.

Tashima opened shop on November 11, 1928, calling his venture Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shoten (Japan-Germany Camera Company). The name reflected the company's reliance on German technology and expertise. Partners Willy Heilemann, an importer of German items in Kobe, and Billy Neumann, a German engineer with a background in optical instruments, brought state-of-the-art German technology to the new firm. By March 1929, the staff of about 30 was producing one bellows camera, called the Nifcalette, each day—with imported lens and shutter. Within three months, production had grown to 100 cameras a month.

A year later, the Great Depression hit Japan hard, bringing labor strife and strikes. Tashima later referred to his company as "a small boat which set sail right into the storm." Nevertheless, Tashima promoted development of new camera models as the Depression intensified and introduced several models in 1930 and 1931.

A new model introduced in 1933 first carried the Minolta brand name, a name Tashima created to sound like the Japanese word "minoru-ta," which means ripening rice field. The name reminded Tashima of a proverb his mother frequently used, meaning that the more successful one becomes, the more humble one must be: "The ripest ears of rice bow their heads lowest." The name, however, also has a Western meaning, as an acronym for Machinery and Instruments Optical by Tashima.

In 1934, Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shoten began to sell the Minolta Vest, the product that made a reputation for the company. Like other camera companies, Minolta used sheepskin to make a flexible camera bellows. When a shortage of imported sheepskin threatened production, the company developed the first rigid bellows of synthetic resin for the Minolta Vest. The innovation made the Vest easier to focus and less expensive. For the first time, a Minolta product was successful outside of Japan.

The Vest's success made expansion possible. Tashima built new production facilities, including a factory devoted to lens production at Sakai. His emphasis on innovation led to the development of the first twin-lens reflex camera in Japan, the Minolta Flex, in 1937. That same year, Tashima reorganized and incorporated the company and renamed it Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko Kabushiki Kaisha (Chiyoda Optics and Fine Engineering Limited) to reflect its broader focus.

Production of Binoculars and Other Optical Products During World War II

In September 1940, Japan joined Germany and Italy in the Tripartite Pact, which divided Asia and Africa into spheres of influence. Japan's domain was to be Southeast Asia. As it became clear that war was ahead, Japanese military planners determined to develop precision optical equipment for range finding, navigation, and bombing aids.

During World War II, when the U.S. military used electronics to track enemy ships and aircraft, the Japanese depended upon optics. Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko produced high-powered binoculars and other optical instruments for wartime use. Demand was so high that it opened the Itami plant in 1942 solely to manufacture optical glass.

Japan ultimately was devastated by the war. One of the primary goals of the Allied occupation forces was the restoration of Japan's economy. Tashima, who was determined to put Minolta back on its feet, had employees dig through the company's bombed-out factories to salvage parts. In 1946, the company produced Japan's first postwar camera, the Semi III.

The Japanese camera industry's major pre-war competitors in Germany had been ruined during wartime bombing. As a result, worldwide markets opened to the Japanese optical industry during the post-war years. The Minolta Semi III was the first camera to be exported after the war with a shipment of 170 cameras in 1947.

Also that year, Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko became the first company to produce coated lenses in Japan, and, in 1948, it began to design and produce a camera to compete with the industry standard, the Leica 35 millimeter. Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko designed a new sand-cast body with interchangeable lenses and a hinged back cover to make film loading easier. The new Minolta 35 included a faster f2.8 lens and more dependable flash photography.

Expanded Exports Starting in Mid-1950s

The company still had to contend with its poor image in overseas markets because the made-in-Japan label still implied goods of inferior quality. However, other Japanese camera firms were changing that perception. Takeshi Mitarai of Canon—then known as Precision Optical—persuaded U.S. occupation forces to stock his cameras in military stores. U.S. servicemen stationed in the East took the cameras home, and Japanese-made cameras soon came to stand for high-quality lenses. That new reputation was reinforced industry-wide when U.S. photographers assigned to the Korean War began to use Nikon cameras; they claimed that their Nikon lenses were superior to the Leicas they were accustomed to using. Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko began exporting to the United States in 1955 through an agreement with the American firm FR Corp. Minolta introduced another breakthrough, the achromatic double-coated lens, in 1956, giving the company entry into the European market beginning late in 1957.

In 1958, Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko put its optical experience to a new use by building its first planetarium. The timing for this venture was propitious: the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik I, the first earth-orbiting artificial satellite, the year before, sparking new interest in space.

Also in 1958, Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko introduced its first single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. The SLR allowed a photographer to see exactly what was being shot through the camera lens by using an angled mirror that reflected the image to the viewer. Previous cameras—called rangefinder cameras—used two lenses, one to take the photo and one for the photographer to look through. When interchangeable lenses came into use in the early 1950s, the rangefinder posed problems: the photographer saw the same image no matter what lens was used, instead of seeing what the camera would actually photograph. The difference between the two images could be substantial. By the mid-1950s, the major Japanese camera companies were developing the more convenient SLRs, and Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko introduced its version, the SR-2, in 1958. Its major competitor was Nikon's SLR, also introduced in 1958, which was recognized as the best of the high-end SLRs on the market.

Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko opened its first overseas subsidiary, Minolta Corporation, in New York City in 1959. The company chose to name the subsidiary Minolta because of the popularity of its Minolta brand name. Shortly thereafter, in mid-1962, Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko changed its own name to Minolta Camera Co., Ltd. Throughout the 1960s, the company continued improving its camera line. It introduced the Uniomat, with a programmed shutter, in 1960, which led to fully programmed autoexposure in the Hi-Matic. In 1962, John Glenn chose the Hi-Matic to take the first photos of earth from space. In 1966, Minolta introduced its longest-running camera line, the SR-T series, which it produced continuously until 1981. These cameras featured through-the-lens light metering, using a patented light compensator to improve exposure in backlit photos. These new products made Minolta more competitive in Europe; so Minolta opened a European subsidiary, Minolta Camera Handelsgesellschaft, in Hamburg in 1965.

Diversification in the 1960s and 1970s

More importantly, Minolta diversified. In 1960, the company entered the office copying market—an area that would prove as successful as cameras—when it produced its Copymaster. In 1962, it expanded into the data-retrieval field with the Minolta 401S microfilm reader-printer, and, in 1965, the company opened its Mikawa plant, which produced the Minoltafax 41, the first copier that could reduce document size.

Minolta continued to develop its links with the United States space program, developing the Minolta Space Meter, a state-of-the-art technology for measuring exposures, for the first manned orbit of the moon, the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. The meter was used on nine more Apollo missions, including the mission that landed a man on the moon in 1969.

Minolta developed digital watches, video recorders, and pocket calculators in the 1970s, although not all the company's innovations were successful. In 1975, a Minolta-developed office copier that used a complex, high-resolution technology was launched just as plain-paper copiers took over the industry. The company introduced a single-lens reflex camera using cartridge film in 1976, but despite a $2 million advertising campaign in the U.S., the product was unsuccessful.

Other camera developments were more successful. In 1977, Minolta produced one of the first "smart" cameras. Its XD Series cameras had the first system to override user aperture settings in poor lighting.

Minolta also advanced in other areas. The company entered the field of medical instruments in 1977 with the development of a fingertip pulse oximeter. Its MS-18 Planetarium, built in Tokyo, contained the first fully automated planetarium system, and its new photocopiers produced higher-quality images and included both enlarging and reducing capabilities. These successes were particularly important because the camera market was saturated in Japan, Europe, and the United States.

Redefined Corporate Image in the 1980s

Minolta responded to the changes in its market by redefining itself. It adopted a new logo in 1981 to reflect its broader purpose, and redefined its mission as processing light and images in all types of environments.

In 1983, Tashima, who had run the company since he founded it, relinquished its presidency to his son, Hideo Tashima, and became chairman of the board, the position he held when he died in 1985.

In the 1980s, Minolta made advances in office-automation products, including copiers and a new word processor, but new camera technology brought the company the most attention. In 1985, Minolta unveiled its Maxxum, a SLR 35-millimeter camera with an autofocusing system. The Maxxum became a successful competitor to less-expensive non-SLR cameras, such as Canon's Snappy and AE-1. A U.S. advertising campaign costing more than $15 million, and technological advances that made the Maxxum the European Camera of the Year for 1985, aided its success. The Maxxum challenged Canon's preeminence in the 35-millimeter market, but it was not long before Minolta's Japanese competitors struck back with autofocus cameras of their own. Canon improved on the Maxxum by building the focusing system into the lens itself instead of housing it in the camera body with a mechanical link to the lens, as Minolta had done. Canon's advance made focusing faster, but its camera was more expensive than the Maxxum.

Minolta entered the facsimile machine market with the introduction of several models in 1986. Meanwhile, the company's planetariums became more sophisticated, first in 1984 with the launch of the Infinium—the first single sphere model that used lens projection—then in 1989 with the introduction of the Infinium a, the first planetarium with a swing-type structure. Also developed by Minolta during this period were the first binoculars to offer continuous autofocusing, launched in 1990.

Difficult Times and a Comeback in the 1990s

Minolta suffered through a prolonged downturn in the early 1990s, with a number of developments contributing to its malaise. First, the camera market had become even more competitive in the late 1980s with the introduction of the first 35mm disposable camera, the QuickSnap from Fuji Photo Film, in 1987 and the first super-compact camera, Konica's Big Mini, in 1989. More convenient and less expensive than the bulky, feature-packed cameras offered by Minolta, Canon, and the other major camera makers, the new smaller models quickly caught on, with Fuji seemingly coming out of nowhere to attain the top spot in cameras by 1992. During the same period, video cameras—or camcorders—became increasingly affordable and further eroded the sales of the traditional cameras Minolta specialized in.

A second factor in Minolta's difficulties—although it affected the company's financial results only in 1992—was the lawsuit filed by Honeywell Inc. in 1987 against Minolta. Honeywell had won approval for several patents relating to autofocus technology, which it had intended to use in its own 35mm camera, an effort it abandoned in the mid-1970s. When autofocus SLR cameras gained great popularity in the mid-1980s, Honeywell prepared lawsuits against nearly all the major camera makers. Minolta eventually settled with Honeywell out of court in 1992, agreeing to pay 16.9 billion (U.S.$125.1 million) for infringing patent rights. After posting a net loss of 2 billion in 1991, Minolta lost 36.1 billion in 1992, thanks in part to the settlement.

The third factor in the company's overall decline was the prolonged Japanese recession of the early 1990s, which hurt domestic sales, and the appreciation of the yen, which hurt exports. Minolta's net sales declined for three straight years, starting in 1992. Although the company's losses narrowed each year, Minolta did not return to profitability until 1996. In the midst of these troubled years, Hideo Tashima became chairman in 1993, and Osamu Kanaya, who had served as president and COO of Minolta Corp., replaced Tashima as president.

To turn the company around, Tashima and Kanaya pursued three main objectives: moving production out of Japan to lessen the effects of the strong yen, developing a camera to compete in the compact category, and continuing to diversify the Minolta product line so as to derive a smaller percentage of revenues from cameras. The first objective of moving production overseas began to be implemented in 1992 with the establishment of Minolta Lorraine S.A., based in France. This facility was set up to make toner, lenses, and other components for imaging products; low-end copiers were later added to its assembly lines, with these products sold mostly in the European market. In 1994, production of plain-paper copiers and laser printers began in China through the Shilong Business Equipment Corporation subsidiary. That same year, Minolta entered into two joint ventures in China for the manufacture and sale of cameras and copiers.

In early 1995, Minolta successfully entered the compact camera category with the launch of the Riva Zoom 70W (known in Japan as the CAPIOS and in North America as the Freedom). Minolta also joined the cooperative development effort brought together by Eastman Kodak Co.—the other participants were Fuji, Canon, and Nikon—to create the Advanced Photo System (APS), an effort to revitalize the stagnant still photography market. APS offered easy loading and the ability to select from three photo sizes (4 inch by 6 inch, 4 inch by 7 inch, and a panoramic 4 inch by 10 inch) as pictures are taken. Minolta introduced a full line of APS cameras in early 1996 under the VECTIS brand. The VECTIS line included five compact models and a high-end SLR version that featured five interchangeable lenses. Later in 1996, Minolta launched a children's camera tied to a new animated series.

The company's desire for further diversification was highlighted in mid-1994 by the decision to change the company name to Minolta Co., Ltd., dropping "Camera." The company soon showed a renewed commitment to innovative new product development. In 1995, Minolta launched the BC 3000 book copying system, the first product able to produce high quality copies of bound books. Also in 1995, Minolta added digital cameras to the Minolta product family with the marketing of the RD-175, touted as "one of the smallest and lightest SLR-type digital cameras in the world."

By 1996, Minolta had begun to turn its fortunes around, posting its first profit in five years, and was building on a revitalized reputation for product development and innovation. New products introduced that year included the CF900 multifunction machine, able to copy, scan, and print in full color; and the Infinium aII, bII, and cII planetariums, extensions of the Infinium line and "the world's first projectors to enable planetarium visitors to experience virtual worlds."

2000: A Shift Toward Office Equipment

Recognizing the growing demand for integrated, digital office machines and digital cameras, Minolta stepped up its research and product development work in 1997 by starting a new company in the heart of Silicon Valley. Minolta Systems Laboratory Inc. in San Jose, California, developed software for Minolta's digital-based copiers, laser printers, and cameras. The company also set itself the target of generating 50 percent of sales from digital-related equipment the following year.

Several successful new products helped Minolta work towards that goal, including the Dimage V, a digital camera featuring a unique side-mounted lens that could be rotated 180 degrees and detached. Linked to the camera with a cable, it enabled the photographer to take pictures around a corner, over the top of a crowd or in tight spaces. This family of cameras was expanded in 1998 with the modular EX, offering interchangeable lenses, and the commercial-use RD 3000 SLR a year later. The Dimage name was also carried over into a range of commercial-use film scanners.

However, office machines were rapidly overtaking cameras as the primary focus of Minolta's business. By 2000, office equipment generated nearly 75 percent of sales while cameras were down to about 20 percent.

Production of laser printers had been increased in 1997 with the launch of the PagePro series, marketed as PageWorks in North America. Two years later, Minolta acquired a 51 percent stake in QMS Ltd., an Alabama manufacturer specializing in color laser printers with which it had partnered since 1993. The companies integrated their sales, service, distribution, logistics, marketing and research and development operations to create the Minolta-QMS division, which became a wholly owned subsidiary in 2000.

Through the late 1990s, Minolta had expanded the DiALTA range of digital multifunction office machines and launched several more specialized products, such as the PS7000 digital book scanner, the only machine in the world capable of copying large bound materials up to A2 size, and the VIVID non-contact 3-D digitizers, which were widely used in the production of computer games and graphics, as well as by educators, museums and galleries, architects, engineers, and industrial designers.

Having seen Minolta through the transition, Osamu Kanaya stepped down as president in 1999. He remained on the board as advisor to his successor, Yoshikatsu Ota, who also took the title of representative director.

In the face of increasingly intense global competition, Minolta began a strategy of driving product development and increasing sales by establishing working relationships with other companies. In 2000, Minolta formed an alliance with Konica Corporation, a manufacturer of high-speed digital copiers, to develop office equipment and manufacture Konica's new 'polymerization' toner.

A year later, there followed a joint venture with Fujitsu, Japan's biggest computer maker, to develop and produce advanced color laser printers. F&M Imaging Technology was scheduled to launch its first products in the spring of 2002.

Moving into the 21st century, Minolta was determined to be at the forefront of digital innovation, while also intent on bolstering its reputation as a "good corporate citizen." A five-year plan introduced in 1999 included bringing its major manufacturing plants up to international environmental planning standards, increasing recycling, reducing waste, and making positive contributions to local communities.

Principal Subsidiaries:Minolta Sales Co., Ltd.; Minolta Planetarium Co., Ltd.; Minolta Office System Tokai Co., Ltd.; Minolta Office System Kinki Co., Ltd.; Minolta Office System Tokyo Co, Ltd.; Minolta Office System Kyushu Co. Ltd.; Aoi Camera Co., Ltd.; Sankei Precision Products Co., Ltd.; Toyohashi Precision Products Co., Ltd.; Nara Minolta Seiko Co., Ltd.; Nankai Optical Co., Ltd.; Okayama Minolta Seimitsu Co., Ltd.; Miki Minolta Kogyo Co., Ltd.; Minolta Components Co. Ltd.; MYG Disk Corporation; Minolta Software Laboratory Co. Ltd.; Tokyo Minolta Camera Service Co., Ltd.; Minolta Digital Solution Co., Ltd.; Minolta Logistics Co., Ltd.; Minolta Quality Service Co., Ltd.; Minolta Techno System Co. Ltd.; Minolta-QMS K.K; Minolta Corporation (U.S.A.); Minolta Business Solutions, Inc. (U.S.A.); Minolta Information Systems Inc. (U.S.A.); MINOLTA-QMS Inc. (U.S.A.); Mohawk Marketing Corporation (U.S.A.); Astro-Tec. Mfg., Inc. (U.S.A.); Minolta Systems Laboratory Inc. (U.S.A.); Minolta Advance Technology Inc. (U.S.A.); Minolta Canada Inc.; Minolta Business Equipment (Canada), Ltd.; Minolta Copiadora do Amazonas Ltda. (Brazil); Minolta GmbH (Germany); Minolta Europe GmbH (Germany); Minolta France S.A.; Minolta Lorraine S.A. (France); Minolta (UK) Limited; Minolta (Schweiz) AG (Switzerland); Minolta Austria Gesellschaft mbH; Minolta Camera Benelux B.V. (Netherlands); Minolta-QMS Europe B.V. (Netherlands); Minolta Business Equipment (Belgium) N.V.; Minolta Svenska AB (Sweden); Minolta Business Equipment Sweden AB; Minolta Norway AS; Minolta Italia S.p.A. (Italy); Minolta Portugal Limitada; Minolta Spain S.A.; Minolta Denmark A/S; Minolta Magyarorszag KFT. (Hungary); Minolta Polska sp. z.o.o. (Poland); Minolta spol. sr.o. (Czech Republic); Minolta Slovakia spol. sr.o.; Minolta Romania s.r.l.; UBA Minolta Baltia (Lithuania); Minolta Bulgaria o.o.d.; Minolta Ljubljana d.o.o. (Slovenia); Minolta Zagreb d.o.o. (Croatia); Minolta Beograd d.o.o. (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia); Minolta Ukraine; Minolta International Trading (Shanghai) Co. Ltd. (China); Shanghai Minolta Optical Products Co., Ltd. (China); Wuhan Minolta Wiaic Office Automation Equipments Co., Ltd. (China); Minolta Hong Kong Limited; Minolta Industries (HK) Limited (Hong Kong); Minolta Singapore (PTE) Limited; Minolta Marketing (M) Sdn. Bhd. (Malaysia); Minolta Malaysia Sdn. Bhd.; Minolta Precision Engineering (M) Sdn. Bhd. (Malaysia); Minolta New Zealand Limited; Minolta Business Equipment Australia PTY. Ltd.; Minolta-QMS Australia.

Principal Competitors:Canon; Eastman Kodak; Fuji Photo Film; Xerox.


  • Key Dates:
  • 1928: Kazuo Tashima establishes Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shoten (Japan-Germany Camera Company).
  • 1929: The company's first camera, the Nifcalette, is introduced.
  • 1933: The first camera to carry the Minolta brand name is launched.
  • 1937: The company is reorganized and incorporated as Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko Kabushiki Kaisha (Chiyoda Optics and Fine Engineering Limited).
  • 1955: The company begins to export to the United States.
  • 1957: The company begins to export to Europe.
  • 1958: Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko builds its first planetarium.
  • 1959: Minolta Corporation opens in New York City.
  • 1960: The company's first office copier, the Copymaster, is introduced.
  • 1962: The company changes its name to Minolta Camera Co. Ltd.; it enters the data-retrieval field with its 401S microfilm reader-printer.
  • 1977: The company enters the medical equipment market with its fingertip pulse oximeter.
  • 1983: Kazuo Tashima is replaced as president of the company by his son Hideo Tashima and becomes chairman of the board.
  • 1985: Founder Kazuo Tashima dies.
  • 1986: Minolta enters the facsimile machine market.
  • 1987: Honeywell Inc. files a lawsuit against Minolta and other major camera makers.
  • 1993: Hideo Tashima becomes chairman and Osamu Kanaya replaces him as president.
  • 1994: The company name is changed to Minolta Co. Ltd.
  • 1997: Minolta Camera Sales Co. Ltd. and Minolta Business Equipment Trading Co. Ltd are merged to form Minolta Sales Co. Ltd.
  • 1999: Osamu Kanaya is replaced as company president by Yoshikatsu Ota.
  • 2000: Minolta forms a partnership with Konica Corporation.
  • 2001: Minolta sets up a joint venture with Fujitsu.

Additional topics

Company HistoryMachinery & Industrial Equipment

This web site and associated pages are not associated with, endorsed by, or sponsored by Minolta Co., Ltd. and has no official or unofficial affiliation with Minolta Co., Ltd..