By Matt Wolfe
August 28, 1937, The Toyota Motor Company is founded
Though Toyota Motor Co. is a preeminent global car brand today, it was not always an automotive manufacturing giant. The Toyota story began when Sakichi Toyoda founded the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd. in 1926. Sakichi, who is often referred to as the father of the Japanese industrial revolution, had invented the Toyoda Automatic Loom in 1924. It was a completely automated and one of the world’s most advanced looms, which provided a dramatic improvement in quality and a twenty-fold increase in productivity. It was that loom which would plant the seeds for the company to grow into automotive manufacturing under the direction of Sakichi’s eldest son, Kiichiro Toyoda (pictured left).
Kiichiro had traveled to Europe and the United States in 1929 to learn more about automobiles, and Sakichi would later sell the patent rights for his automatic loom to a British Company which provided the necessary capital for the company to begin producing automobiles. The automotive division within Toyoda Automatic Loom Works was established in 1933. Its first Toyoda vehicle was the A1 Sedan, which borrowed many ideas from established automakers. The engine was a Chevrolet design, the chassis and electrical were copied from Ford, and the styling was based on a Chrysler Airflow, a car which was designed by Hall of Fame Inductee Carl Breer.
Three prototype A1’s were completed in May of 1935. Kiichiro drove one of the prototypes to his father’s grave out of respect for his father enabling him to build a car factory. None of the A1 prototypes are known to survive today. Though the vehicles were originally sold under the “Toyoda” family name, the company decided to change its name to “Toyota” because it took eight brush strokes (a lucky number in Japanese culture) to write and was visually simpler. Additionally, the name “Toyoda” translates literally to “fertile rice paddies”, so changing the name also prevented the company from being associated with “antiquated” industries like agriculture. The newly formed word was trademarked and the company was registered in August 1937 as the Toyota Motor Company.