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Hisashige Tanaka

The Genius of Mechanical Wonders

One of Japan's greatest inventors, he was known as "the genius of mechanical wonders."

Hisashige Tanaka
Hisashige Tanaka [Kurume City Board of Education; photo courtesy of the Board]

Toshiba's founder, Hisashige Tanaka, was born the eldest son of a tortoiseshell craftsman in 1799. At the age of twenty-one, he performed at a local shrine festival with clockwork dolls he constructed himself. This display of technical wizardry created such a stir that he ended up traveling the length and breadth of the country as an itinerant entertainer. Eventually he settled down in Osaka to sell his inventions, including the extremely popular Mujin-to rapeseed-oil lamp that used a compressed air fueling system to burn extra long. Then he scaled further heights of technological ingenuity with Man-nen Jimeisho, the finest traditional Japanese-style clock ever made.

In 1854, Hisashige was invited by the Saga clan to help construct steamboats and telegraph equipment. In 1873, he moved to Tokyo to develop a telegraph system at the request of the new national government, which had grown out of the Meiji Restoration. Hisashige's work helped the government meet its goals for economic development with infrastructure improvements in the communications network. Throughout his long life, Hisashige was always ready to meet new challenges. He was an inventor to the core and never lost his penchant for fine craftsmanship.

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