Epson: A Hundred Years of Innovation

by Rich on October 28, 2008

Today, Epson is a household name—and you can find Epson printers, scanners, computers, home theatre projectors, televisions, and other electronics in millions of homes and offices throughout the world. Most people don’t realize that the company’s full name is Seiko Epson, and it’s affiliated with a watch-making corporation that is over a hundred years old.

The story of Epson starts with a Japanese entrepreneur, Kintaro Hattori. He founded K. Hattori & Co., a clockmaking enterprise, in 1881 at the age of 21. Although young, he already had about eight years of business experience as a jeweler.

It was a good time to be a watchmaker. In 1884, the establishment of time zones created a standardization of time that led to an increased need for timepieces, and the rise of railroad traffic at the end of the 19th century intensified this demand further. In 1892, Hattori opened the Seikosha clock making factory in Tokyo. The company made mostly wall clocks, which were the most popular at the time, and employed ten workers.

Over the years, however, the company started producing wristwatches—which became so popular that they replaced the pocket watch as the preferred portable timepiece.  Over time, the name Seikosha was shortened to Seiko. The company developed expertise in micro-engineering through its experience with wristwatches. It used that expertise in 1930 to get into the camera business, producing camera shutters and eventually becoming one of the world’s largest exporters of camera products, most of which were used in other companies’ cameras and marketed under different brand names.

Epson was founded in 1961 under the name Seiki Precision Manufacturing Company, or Shinshu Seiki in Japanese. It was created to manufacture precision components for Seiko watches.  1n 1964, the company won a contract to make highly precise timers for the Olympic Games. The Olympic Committee required timers with small electronic printers built in so that timekeepers could print their results during the games.  To meet this need, the company developed the EP-101, a miniature printer built into a calculator. The acronym “EP” stood for “Electronic Printer.”

The EP-101 was sold to the public in 1968, and the company developed an updated version in 1975.  Company legend states that the workers nicknamed the second version “Son of EP,” which was later transformed into “Epson.” The name was used when Seiko opened an American branch under the name Epson America that year; the new company opened under a name that meant “Son of Electronic Printer.”

The new American company was created to sell original manufacturer’s parts to companies in the computer and electronics industry, and it also started making printers and peripherals of its own. In 1980, when personal computers were being marketed for the first time and there was a demand for affordable home printers to go with them, Epson introduced the MX-80 dot-matrix printer.  This quickly became the industry standard, capturing a 60% share in the home printer market with this product alone due to its reliability, quality of output, and affordable price.

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