In 1922, a 15 year old boy shows up for his first day at work at a small, auto repair shop in Tokyo, Japan, the owner, who questioned if the boy was even meant for this type of business, assigned him to clean the workshop and look after his child instead.
At the time nobody thought much of it, neither did they care, but only because they had no idea who this kid would eventually become.
Fast forward a few decades and that boy, Soichiro Honda, was now competing with some of the biggest car brands in the World, while also owning the largest motorbike manufacturer.
This is the story of how one poor, Japanese boy went from babysitting children to building the multi-billion dollar brand with Honda Motors.
The story begins in 1906 in a small poverty, ridden village called tenryu shizuoka at the Foot of mount fuji. It was there that Gehe Honda and his wife welcomed their first son Soichiro Honda.
Soichiro’s father was a local blacksmith from the village who also fixed bicycles on the side. While his mother was an accomplished weaver raised in difficult economic situations.
Sochiro lost five of his siblings growing up due to health issues. When Soichiro was eight years old, he was going about his normal routine in the neighborhood, when he heard a strange rumble that grabbed his attention. He followed the sound until he came across a big piece of strange machinery rolling along on four wheels. This machine was a ford model, and Soichiro was left captivated by what he had just witnessed.
“It was the first car I saw. What a thrill! I could not understand how it could move under its own power and when it had driven past me, without even thinking why, I found myself chasing it down the road as hard as I could run.”
This experience left a mark in his life that would forever change the way he would engage with machines.
He learned how to wet the blades of the farm machinery and repair bicycles. He was fascinated by all kinds of engines and motors, but Soichiro hated the idea of going to school and instead of pursuing a proper education, he spent the majority of his childhood helping his father with his bicycle repair business.
His lack of interest in school affected his grades so terribly that he used some rubber that he found to forge his family’s stamp on his grade reports. That way his father wouldn’t need to sign the paper and see his grades. Eventually he got caught and his father punished him by making him kneel on his knees for an entire day without lunch.
In 1922, Soichiro came across a magazine ad for a Tokyo-based automobile servicing company called Art Shokai. He reasoned that, since the company was one of the most popular motor car services in the city, they might be in need of new workers, so he wrote a letter to Art Shokai inquiring about a job and luckily enough he received a positive reply.
So at the age of 15, Sochiro dropped out of school, left home and headed for Tokyo in pursuit of his dreams.
When Soichiro got to Tokyo, he was overwhelmed to see how fast and different city life was compared to the village he had come from.
When Sochiro arrived, the shop’s owner, Yuzo Sakakibara had a job already prepared for him. He was to babysit the owner’s child. Soichiro was disappointed to find that over the next few months he wasn’t making any money and the only work tasks he was assigned was to carry a baby wrapped around on his back. The only thing that made him stay was the shame of returning home a failure and facing his parents.
As time went by the owner couldn’t keep up with the high demand of his automobile business, so he finally pulled Soichiro in to help him out.
Even though Sochiro started out doing menial tasks, he gradually climbed his way up until he became a trusted mechanic at the company. His talent and dedication eventually caught the attention of the owner, who decided to take little Sochiro under his wing and teach him not only mechanical repairs, but the business side of the company as well.
Although Sakakibara’s repair work included both automobiles and bicycles, cars were not as popular then as they are today. Not only were automobiles, a luxury that only people of the upper class could afford, but most of the automobiles around at the time were foreign made through his work.
Soichiro quickly became familiar with a wide range of automobiles, including Lincoln’s, Mercedes Daimlers and even various motorcycles that were brought into the workshop.
Soichiro poured everything he had into expanding his knowledge and understanding of his craft. It was through this company that Soichiro was also introduced to the world of motorsports around this time.
Motorsports were quickly gaining popularity around Europe, America and even Japan, and in 1923, Saka Kibara himself began to build racing cars with the help of his workers, including Soichiro. Their first model was the Art Daimler built using a second second-hand Daimler engine and their second model was the curtis.
The curtis was made using another secondhand engine from an american curtis biplane placed on the chassis of another american car, the mitchell this car would go on to race in the fifth japanese motorcar championship in 1924, taking a stunning first position with saka kibara’s brother as driver and soichiro. As the accompanying engineer. It was a special experience for the 17 year old boy and from then on.
Soichiro was drafted for military service, but didn’t pass the medical exams as they revealed that he was colorblind. Thus he was excused from the army and was able to keep working at Art Shokai by 1928.
Yuzo sakakibara wanted to expand his business and decided to open a branch of Art Shokai in Hamamatsu. He believed there was no better man to leave in charge than his young apprentice and at the age of 21, Soichiro was called upon to run the new branch. However, Soichiro’s repair shop struggled during the first year, largely because people didn’t want to entrust their cars with someone, so new and so young, so Sochito had to live off the scraps that other repair shops cast aside.
Still, the young man used all the knowledge and skill he had acquired over the years and in time he successfully managed to grow his business. By the 1930s, his new shop had grown from a one-man operation to a staff of 30 people. The branch grew at an incredible pace during the next few years and with so much work to be done.
Soichiro had to bring his wife in to help run the company. Even though Sochiro was known as a brilliant mechanic, he was also a prodigious racing driver, and this was another skill that helped him stand out from his peers.
Inside his shop, Soichiro had built the Hamamatsu race car in which he managed to set a new speed record by driving it up to 120 kilometers per hour, a record that stood for 20 years in japan. However, racing at the time was far more dangerous than it is today and in June 1936, Honda was involved in a serious crash, while racing the Hamamatsu in the suburbs of tokyo and almost died.
Soichiro’s left arm was fractured, his shoulder was dislocated and his face was damaged despite spending a couple of months at the hospital nursing his injuries, Soichiro returned to the racetrack only four months later. His family, however, was unhappy with his return to racing and after several arguments with his wife and father Soichiro, never raced again by 1936.
Honda became tired and weary of his repair work. He wanted to do more and was planning to move on to manufacturing car parts. He proposed turning the Art Shokai Hamamatsu branch into a separate company for this purpose, but the shareholders of the company disagreed with him.
The investors saw that the current orders and workload from the repair shop were bringing in enough profit and they didn’t want to take a gamble on a venture. They believed was unnecessary, so Sochiro decided to open his own company to manufacture piston rings and founded the Tokai Seiki heavy industry and made one of his close friends.
Sochiro and Kato worked tirelessly in their new venture and together started. The art piston ring research center soichiro in particular, was still working at his hamamatsu branch spending. His days at the repair workshop and his knights developing pistons for a long time, they struggled to make any breakthrough, and during the next couple of years, soichiro had worked so much that he lost a lot of weight, causing his face to look emaciated.
All the stress his body and mind were going through made him look like a completely different person and after a series of failures, sochiro decided to enroll as a part-time student at the hamamatsu industrial institute to improve his knowledge of metallurgy. It wasn’t until 1939, when sochiro would finally create a successful working, piston, confident in his design.
He quit his job at art, shokai handing the branch off to some of his trainees and proceeded to work full time at his new company. Honda began producing pistons day in and day out, but his creations were still flawed and nowhere near the quality they needed to be toyota contacted sochiro to make pistons for the company and out of the 50, he submitted only three passed toyota’s standard. It was a big setback for sochiro, but he didn’t give up. He spent the next few years, traveling around japan, visiting steel-making companies and universities to improve his knowledge of manufacturing. Piston rings after gaining confidence in his knowledge and experience.
Soichiro gave it another try. The result was incredible: not only did his new pistons pass quality control, but orders also began to come in from all over the country, so much so that the company went on to employ around 2 000 people just to catch up with the orders. Things were starting to look great for soichiro and his company until japan joined the pacific war in 1941, and soichiro’s company was placed under the direct command and control of the ministry of munitions.
The following year, toyota took over 45 of the company’s equity and soichiro was downgraded from president to the position of senior managing director. Things went from bad to worse, as many male employees began to resign as they were drafted for military service, and his company began to struggle.
Soichiro did everything he could to keep his company afloat, but he wasn’t ready for what was yet to come. In 1944, air raid sirens began to intensify in japan, and it became very obvious that the country was headed towards defeat. Hamamatsu was in great danger and soichiro’s company was struck by a direct bomb blast, destroying the factory.
The company would go on to suffer a second misfortune in january 1945, when the nankai earthquake shook the region and the iwanta plant collapsed. Japan eventually surrendered in august 1945, but by then soichiro had nearly lost everything after the war, sochiro decided to sell what was left of his company to toyota for a sum of 450 000 yen and publicly told everyone that he was going to take some time off.
To figure out what the future would hold as japan was left in ruins a year after the war, the country experienced an economic meltdown that threatened the lives of its citizens. There was a shortage of food, clothing and shelter, and resources were rationed as a result. Soichiro couldn’t even find enough gas to drive his car to the market and buy food for his family. One day, sochiro came across a generator engine that belonged to the japanese imperial army, which was used during the war to power up a wireless radio. He was fascinated with the engine and, after figuring out how it worked.
A bright idea came to him. What would happen if he attached this engine to a bicycle? By no means was this: a new invention, the practice of clipping a motor onto a bike, was common. In Europe and a few of these had even made their way to japan, but Sochiro knew the country was in desperate need of cheap transportation, and so in 1946 Sochiro used his old warehouse to establish the Honda technical research institute for the sole purpose of figuring out. A way to make motorbikes there he and a staff of 12 men followed through with his idea and successfully managed to put together a motorbike using some engines.
He found, along with other spare parts. These new bicycles instantly became a hit and orders began to come in from different parts of the country. Soon enough, soichiro was running out of used engines, so he decided to design and develop one of his own in 1947. He finished the taipei engine and for the very first time the honda name was emblazoned on a machine.
Soichiro founded the honda motor company in 1948, with the initial goal of building motorcycles to help get japanese workers around the only problem was soichiro needed more money to expand his production, so he wrote an open letter to all eighteen thousand bicycle shop owners in japan, telling them that he had thought of a solution to get japan moving again.
Out of the eighteen thousand stores he wrote, he received positive responses from three thousand of them and they provided him with the money he needed to start making his first shipments. A year later, the company produced its very first complete motorcycle, the model d. Even though the model d was a big achievement for honda. It was too big and heavy, and because of this only a few people bought.
The motorcycle sochiro wasn’t satisfied with this, so he stripped down the motorbike and worked long hours to make another bike that was smaller and lighter. After three years of trial and error, he succeeded in building another motorcycle and named it the super cub.
The super cub was an instant hit and became so successful that it won the emperor’s prize. Honda also joined efforts with investor takio fujisawa, who provided the capital he needed, as well as financial and marketing strategies.
This partnership became the foundation upon which the honda motor company was built on the super cub reached the united states in 1958, with a sticker price of just 295 dollars, which was a quarter of the price of what other american motorcycles cost and thanks to the company’s Marketing and engineering skills it soon outsold both triumph and harley-davidson in their respective home markets, but by then sochiro had also expanded.
His motorcycle brand into the racing world racing at the time was more than a sport. It was the biggest platform for these manufacturing companies to showcase their cars and motorbikes to the rest of the world, so he traveled all over the world to see the races studying and examining all the motorcycles of his competitors, in fact, throughout his career on the track. Whenever a benchmark was set by one of his competitors, honda would take this information home and strive to surpass it.
It was this attitude that took honda motorcycles from an awful and disappointing finish at their first international race in 1954 to the manufacturer’s team prize at the 1959 isle of man tt the biggest motorcycle race in the world. Two years later, honda would win again at the isle of man tt and his success on the racetrack.
Put the honda name on the map by the 1960s. Honda had become the biggest motorcycle company in the world. After the release of the honda dream, in 1949, they had produced a total of 10 million motorcycles by 1968. However, becoming the biggest motorcycle company wasn’t enough for sochiro, there was another big dream: he’d been chasing since he was eight years old and it was none other than entering the car making industry.
When sochiro announced he was going into the automobile market, many people warned him that it was too risky for the company and that he was better off just making motorcycles around this time. Japan had nissan toyota and a few other companies who were competing in the tough world of the automobile market and japanese officials tried to convince sochiro that the country didn’t need another car manufacturer, but sochiro didn’t listen to their arguments.
Honda debuted its first automobile in 1963, with the release of the t360 mini truck a small but reliable pickup truck. Unfortunately, the mini truck never gained much traction and it was soon followed with the company’s first ever sports car the s-500. This s500 was a two-door roadster with a four-speed transmission capable of reaching 80 miles per hour.
It was a smaller car, but it was smooth and easy to drive, but sadly only around 1300 cars of this model were built, making it one of the rarest honda cars ever made, but just like soichiro did with his motorcycles. Honda brought its cars into the racing world. The honda ra-271 made its formula one debut at the 1964 belgian grand prix. It only took one year for honda to achieve a first place, victory at the 1965 mexican grand prix with their new successor, the ra-272. But despite its early success on the race track, honda was nowhere near beating its competitors in the car market, so they took a break from racing and turned their attention to building one of the most successful cars in the automobile market.
The honda, civic honda debuted their new model in 1972 and in the following years it became one of the most popular cars in the world. One of the reasons for its success, especially in european and american markets, was due to the oil crisis of the 1970s. During this period, shortages of fuel spread all over the world and to tackle this societal devised, a brand new method for fuel management called the compound vortex, controlled combustion or cvcc. For short, this allowed people to travel further distances with their car without burning too much fuel. The honda civic also tackled the pollution problem caused by exhaust gases by adding a catalytic converter to its vehicles, something that other big automakers didn’t consider as much at the time and just like that.
Honda was rapidly becoming popular in the automobile market, even though americans might have bought the civic out of necessity. It was the honda accord that really changed the game. Initially, the honda accord debuted as a compact hatchback, but it later expanded to sedans. This new model contained the same fuel-efficient feature as the civic, but with a better moderate size and thanks to their wider interior space and comfort, the honda accord would later become one of the best-selling sedans in the automotive history. At the beginning of the 80s, the honda motor company was the third largest producer of cars in japan and by the end of the decade it was the third biggest car company on the planet.
Sochiro honda retired from the company in 1973 and later died on the 5th of august 1991. Looking back on my work, i feel that i was doing nothing more than mistakes, blunders and serious omissions, but i am proud of the achievements, although i did one mistake after another, my mistakes and failures never occurred for the same reasons. Honda has now expanded into multiple industries, including jets boat engines, power equipment and robots, to name a few.
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