Canon Essay

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Canon, a world leader in the imaging industry, traces its foundation to 1933 with the Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory that sought to compete with Germany in 35 mm cameras. The founders, Goro Yoshida and Saburo Uchida (brothers-inlaw) researched German cameras, introducing the “Kwanon” prototype camera in 1934. Takashi Mitarai, Uchida’s friend and a gynecologist, provided capital. They trademarked “Canon” in 1935 and subsequently introduced the Hansa Canon, Japan’s first 35 mm camera, for ¥275, roughly half the price of a German Leica. The laboratory incorporated as a joint-stock company in 1937 with ¥1 million in capital, listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 1949. The company was renamed Canon Camera Co., Inc., in 1947 to simplify the brand and corporate image, becoming Canon, Inc., in 1969 to reflect the company’s broadened product profile.

World War II meant that Canon produced military aircraft cameras and developed X-ray equipment, supported by Mitarai’s medical connections. Post–World War II government efforts to support the recovery of the Japanese economy translated into cameras being designated as a key export product in 1947. Canon’s emphasis on high-quality precision cameras and lenses became quickly known among professional photographers. Japan’s first mass-produced camera, the Canonet (1961), sparked a boom in the industry for its low price (¥19,800) and high quality. Canon’s Cine 8T (1956, ¥48,000) was awarded the Good Design “G” mark the following year by Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). The L1 35 mm camera, Canon’s first completely original 35 mm camera that allowed it to break away from a Leica-type design, also won the “G” mark.

In 1959 the Projector P-8 was launched, followed by a zoom-lens 8 mm cine camera in 1960. The Canon F-1, a professional-use single-lens reflex (SLR), was introduced in 1971, positioning Canon as a market leader. In 1976 Canon launched the AE-1 SLR, the world’s first computerized camera (¥85,000). Canon introduced the NP-1100 in 1970, Japan’s first plainpaper copier (¥880,000), a success story because it did not infringe on Xerox’s wall of 600+ patents. Additional successes were the LBP-4000 laser-beam printer in 1975 and the BJ-80 inkjet printer in 1985. Since 2000 Canon’s digital camera offerings have ranged from the compact IXY Digital to the professional EOS Digital SLR series.

Global Presence

Overseas sales did not come easily at first for Canon. Despite efforts in 1955 to set up a sales office in New York, Canon was forced to rely on other U.S. sales relationships, first with Scopes Co., Ltd., from 1958–61 and then with Bell Howell. To consolidate sales, Canon dissolved all local sales contracts by 1974 and shifted to direct sales through Canon Sales Co., resulting in $137 million in sales in 1976. In 1971 Canon’s first overseas production facility was established in Taiwan, which soon became a world supply hub for the popular Canonet. Today, manufacturing is located in such locations as Oita (Japan), Taiwan, Malaysia, and China to capture nuances in world market demand and keep prices for consumer goods reasonable.

Takeshi Mitarai became president in 1942 and led Canon for 32 years, implementing such innovative management policies as a monthly salary system (1943), employee health examinations, the “San-Ji Spirit” of spontaneity, autonomy, and self-awareness (1952), and Japan’s first five-day workweek (1966).

Canon was forced to record its first-ever loss in the early 1970s, citing quality failures with desktop calculators and intense competition. Management took the full blame and offered the 1976 Premier Company Plan as a vision to improve Canon’s competitive ability.

Under the leadership of Ryuzaburo Kaku, president from 1977 to 1989, Canon grew quickly. Kaku also helped develop and promote Canon’s kyosei philosophy of living and working together for the common good. Fujio Mitarai, nephew of T. Mitarai, was named president in 1995 and helped Canon overcome the collapse of Japan’s economic bubble via the Excellent Global Corporation Plan announced in 1996. Mitarai was named head of Nippon Keidanren in 2006 and shared leadership of Canon with Tsuneji Uchida.

As of December 31, 2006, Canon recorded net sales of $34,941 million; net income of $3,826 million; 219 consolidated subsidiaries; and 118,499 employees worldwide. Main business areas are business machines, computer peripherals, office imaging products, business information products, cameras, and optical products.


  1. Canon, Inc., (cited March 2009);
  2. E. Dyer, The Canon Production System (Productivity Press, 1987);
  3. Lewis, ed., The History of the Japanese Camera (International Museum of Photography, 1990);
  4. Kiyoshi Tokuda and Nikkei, How Canon Got Its Flash Back (John Wiley & Sons, 2004).

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