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OKI and the Changing Times

Part 8: Developing a teletype machine and gaining a reputation as a supplier of peripheral devices

A computer called "ENIAC" was developed in the United States in 1946, and Japan entered the age of computerization around 1955. OKI participated in a public/private joint venture to develop a Japanese computer and subsequently became a leader in this field, particularly in the area of peripheral (input/output) devices.

Developing a Japanese computer

In the United States, the advent of ENIAC opened up an age of first-generation computers based on vacuum tubes, produced by UNIVAC, IBM, and other manufacturers. Japan first began to see some advanced companies adopt computers around 1955. Since the transistor-based second generation had already emerged, the dawn of computerization in Japan came after a decade's delay.

In 1955, the Radio Engineering & Electronics Association in Japan organized an internal committee to study electronic computers. Its chief mission was to develop a Japanese computer surpassing what was then the state-of-the-art machine, made by IBM. Seven electronics manufacturers, including OKI, were invited to take part in a prototype research project.

Here, attention should be paid to OKI's position. Although it was known that a computer cannot be used without data transmission and input/output devices (peripherals), Japan's prototype research project was undertaken by telecommunications manufacturers with limited skills and know-how in the field of peripherals. Of all participants, OKI was the only one with expertise and experience in the production of peripherals. OKI had published a paper on teleprinters in OKI Electric Times as early as 1935 and later developed and commercialized many unique teleprinters, including teletype machines. In charge of a paper tape reader and a versatile input/output device (key-punch typewriter) in the research project, OKI developed a series of revolutionary information processing technologies and products.

Responding to the networking of teletype machines

Hangul teletype developed concurrently
with the key-punch typewriter

The early 1950s in Japan were characterized by the widespread pursuit of paperwork rationalization, especially at insurance and securities companies, banks, and electric power companies. The Teletypewriter, a page teletypewriter developed in 1953, was the first to seek to meet such demand.

Japanese enterprises continued their rationalization efforts and began to adopt IDP (Integrated Data Processing). Connecting head office and branches around the country by a teletype network enabled central processing of clerical work, suggesting that teletype machines could be used not just on a standalone basis, but as mutually linked pairs or in networks of many.

A key-punch typewriter was developed against this backdrop. The story began in 1956, when OKI was asked to develop a key-punch typewriter compatible with IBM's PCS (Punched Card System) while visiting Fuji Iron & Steel Co., Ltd. to offer them telephone equipment. Confronted with the major technical challenge of neatly printing on a specified format rather than on ordinary free form, engineers succeeded in developing a product that met with far better response than expected. OKI received a series of orders for customized key-punch typewriters and became a leader in data processing in Japan.

Developing a series of hit products at a state-of-the-art plant

Early generation OKITYPER

In the late 1950s, financial institutions felt the urgent need to expedite their money order exchange services by automatically linking head offices to branch networks. OKI was the first company to meet this need for a so-called primary on-line system. OKI delivered teletype exchange network systems to more than 30 banks, including the first delivery to Hokkaido Takushoku Bank in 1958. Before growing competition in the data processing device area, OKI held an amazing 90% share of the teletype market, delivering systems to the Defense Agency, trading firms, and electric power companies. In the key-punch typewriter market, both domestic and overseas manufacturers released new products in fierce competition for survival.

OKI examined ways to downsize the key-punch typewriter and introduced an electric typewriter, the OKITYPER-2000, in June 1961. Combining the five features of printing, keyboard input, reading, punching, and control, this typewriter was able to generate punched paper tape while issuing vouchers and printing 500 letters a minute. This masterpiece, produced at the Takasaki Plant, won high regard among its many users. The OKITYPER series released subsequently became a leading product for the company.

In this way, OKI established its status as a supplier of peripheral devices. This reputation was not simply the result of original, reliable products. In 1957, OKI founded an exclusive sales company to strengthen its marketing capabilities. Its reputation as a leading manufacturer had much to do with its strategy of basing research and development activities on customer needs.

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