Obit of the Day: From Cards to Consoles
When Hiroshi Yamauchi took over his grandfather’s company in 1949 it was the Nintendo Playing Card Co. Founded in 1889, the company made a popular Japanese card game as well as traditional playing card decks. (The company still makes cards in Japan and hosts an annual bridge tournament.)
But Mr. Yamauchi had a bigger vision for the company. He tried expanding into various industries including food, taxis, and hotels before settling on toys in 1966. The first toy produced by Nintendo was “Ultra Hand” which could reach out and grab things.
Random note: Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of Ultra Hand, would later design Nintendo’s Game Boy.
Beginning in 1974, Nintendo first tried out the electronic gaming market as the Japanese dealer of the Magnavox Odyssey game console. Three years later they introduced their own home gaming console, “Color TV Game”.
Nintendo was also developing arcade games. They began in 1973 but it would take 8 years for the company to manufacture its first hit - Donkey Kong - which premiered in 1981. Nintendo continued to produce international arcade hits including Donkey Kong, Jr., Popeye, Mario Bros., and Punch-Out.
But everything changed in 1985 when Nintendo launched the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), known as Famicom (“Family Computer”) in Japan. The system, which came with a copy of Super Mario Bros - one of the best-selling games of all time and the basis for myriad spin-off games - helped rejuvenate a video game industry that was struggling. Four years later they made games portable with the introduction of the Game Boy.
Under Mr. Yamauchi the company also created a roster of characters that are known to gamers and non-gamers alike including Mario, Luigi, Link, Zelda, Metroid, and Kirby.
In 1992, Mr. Yamauchi expanded his personal interests by buying the Seattle Mariners baseball franchise. Although not a fan of baseball, Mr. Yamauchi became the first Japanese owner in Major League Baseball history - and like Nintendo, the Mariners experienced a golden age. While he was owner the Mariners made it to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and in 2001 won an MLB record 116 regular season games. He sold the team to Nintendo USA in 2005.
Mr. Yamauchi would retire in 2002 when Nintendo earned a record $1.3 billion in profits. Upon leaving the company he turned down his $11 million “allowance” and asked that it be put back into the company. As of 2013 Mr. Yamauchi was still listed as the 12th richest man in Japan.
Hiroshi Yamauchi died on September 19, 2013 at the age of 85.
Sources: The Verge, Time, Forbes, Wikipedia, and Baseball-Reference.com
(Image was created by Dave Jarbo and courtesy of www.fanpop.com)
Other tech/gaming related OOTD posts:
Lewis Kornfeld - Designer of the TRS-80 home computer
Gerald Lawson - Invented the video game cartridge
Norio Ohga - Head of Sony who oversaw the creation of the compact disc
Norman Sas - Inventor of electric tabletop football