Sakichi Toyoda

Founder of Toyota Industries

Sakichi Toyoda is often referred to as the father of the Japanese industrial revolution. He is also the founder of Toyota Industries Co. Ltd.

He invented numerous weaving devices. His most famous invention was the automatic power loom in which he implemented the principle of Jidoka (autonomous automation). The principle of Jidoka, which means that the machine stops itself when a problem occurs, became later a part of the Toyota Production System. He later sold the patent on his machine to a British firm for about $150,000. That money was used to help his son found a start-up, Toyota, which would become the world's second-biggest carmaker.

Toyoda developed the concept of 5 Whys: When a problem occurs, ask "why" five times to try to find the source of the problem, then put into place something to prevent the problem from recurring. This concept is used today as part of applying lean methodologies to solve problems, improve quality, and reduce costs.

Sakichi’s looms won great acclaim, and he continued to invent new automated-loom technologies amidst repeated partnerships and breakups between companies like Mitsui & Co. and the textile industry. The economic crash caused by the Russo-Japanese War, however, struck a hard blow to the textile industry, and Sakichi was forced to give up his research and development efforts. In 1910, Sakichi quit his job at Toyoda Loom Works Ltd. and traveled to the USA and Europe to observe the loom industry there.

Seeing the well equipped laboratories there steeled Sakichi’s resolve, and the following year he completed Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, with 200 looms. He left the management of the company to his family, however, while he dedicated himself to the research and development of automated looms.

Almost immediately, Sakichi ran into a new problem: thread. If the quality of the thread is not reliable, then if the thread breaks, it is not possible to tell whether the fault lies with the loom or the thread. Sakichi thus decided to operate his own spinning mill, in order to ensure that he had a supply of higher-quality thread.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Japan’s industry was boosted by the wartime economy, and Toyoda Automatic Loom Works grew too large for one person to manage. On January 30, 1918, Sakichi incorporated his company, forming Toyoda Boshoku Corporation.

Although Toyota traces its roots back to Toyoda Boshoku, Sakichi’s death put the company’s continued existence in grave doubt. Under the wartime command economy, private companies were consolidated. Toyoda Boshoku was merged with an affiliate to form Chuo Spinning Company. Unable, however, to meet the demands of a final restructuring plan, it was then merged with Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. (now the Toyota Motor Corporation) — a former spin-off of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works (now Toyota Industries Corporation)