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OKI and the Changing Times

Part 10: Transferring the Production of Rotary Dial Telephones and Developing Push-button Telephones

At OKI, the 10-year period from 1958 is referred to as The Decade of the Type-600 Telephone. Throughout the 1960s, OKI manufactured the Type-600 rotary dial telephone as well as other new models, leading the industry in its role as OKI the Telephone Manufacturer. However, as electronic switching systems replaced earlier systems, electronic technologies began to sweep the field of telephony. In response, OKI shifted its focus to the development and production of electronic push-button telephones, spinning off production of Type-600 telephone sets to another company.

Moving to develop push-button telephones

In April 1967, the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation ("NTT") announced its Ten-year Vision for Telegraphs and Telephones, presenting a list of concrete targets, including the widespread diffusion of push-button telephones, faster dialing, and telecontrols for remote operation of electric appliance switches. Taken for granted now, these functions were revolutionary at the time. OKI saw expanding the appeal of electronic telephone sets as essential to achieving the widespread diffusion of these functions.

At the time, Japan was in the midst of the Izanagi boom. The buying public coveted color TVs, room air conditioners, and automobiles as the New Three Sacred Treasures. The Japanese economy continued to enjoy high growth. Against this historical backdrop, dial-tone type telephones, called push-button phones, were released on May 17, 1969, as the first series of electronic telephones.

The last Type-600 telephone set marks
the end of dial telephone production

After NTT established specifications for the Type-600 dial telephone in August 1963, OKI began producing Type-600 telephone sets at the Honjo Plant completed that same year. Built to be the world's top-class mass-production factory dedicated to the manufacture of telephone sets, the Honjo Plant featured equipment and factory layouts revolutionary for those years. The plant established a non-partition system designed for mass production (the entire building consisting of a single large space), an air conditioning system for the entire building designed for advanced quality control, and automated processes for tasks such as filing, drilling, and thread tapping previously performed manually. The Honjo Plant manufactured 2,500 to 2,800 telephone sets daily and boasted production efficiency superior to any other facility.

Transferring production of Type-600 telephones, OKI's products par excellence

In 1969, OKI's top management made the crucial decision to transfer production of Type-600 telephones, OKI's products par excellence and significant contributor to business growth, to another company. The Honjo Plant was OKI's frontline telephone manufacturing facility. This decision was based on the assessment that push-button phones represented the future mainstream.

The production of Type-600 telephones was transferred to Taiko Electric Works, established in 1932 by a former OKI employee, in Shinagawa, Tokyo. The company thrived during the postwar period with support from NTT and OKI, becoming a leading mid-sized company with capital of 400 million yen and 1,200 employees. OKI decided to transfer production to Taiko Electric Works due to its solid ties to OKI as an affiliate, as well as NTT's initiative to promote its growth. By mutual agreement, education and training to produce Type-600 telephones began in 1970 at the Honjo Office. Groups of employees, each group consisting of some 20 persons, took turns learning about the belt-conveyor-based mass-production system.

First shipment of Type-600 telephones
from the plant

In March 1971, two years after this decision, the last OKI-manufactured Type-600 telephone rolled off the production lines. It marked the 3,908,706th unit produced since November 1963, when a truck full of telephone sets and wrapped with a large banner proclaiming "Type-600 Telephones made by Oki Electric" had departed the plant for Tokyo. The farewell ceremony for this mainstay product not only stirred emotions in employees associated with the product, but underscored for Oki the need to change in response to changing times.

Full-scale production of push-button phone sets

Push-button phones sparked eagerness to create new services in line with NTT's Ten-year Vision for Telegraphs and Telephones. By incorporating original technologies, OKI continued to develop push-button phones that incorporated added value.

OKI business phone (key-telephone system)

OKI marketed four types of business phones (key-telephone systems) in 1966, resembling telephones with miniature switchboards. These telephones were equipped with various functions that allowed users to select a line, put a call on hold, and transfer a call to another person. The units also gave busy signals. They were used mainly in business settings and received remarkable attention. In 1968, OKI marketed an automatic dialer; in 1971, it introduced a phone with an automatic alarm. This automatic alarm combined magnetic recording capabilities with automatic dialing technologies to send messages automatically through a public circuit. It proved popular among security companies for use as an emergency alarm.

Meanwhile, an expansion of the Honjo Plant was completed in 1971. The Honjo Plant began manufacturing crossbar switching systems that accounted for a large portion of sales at that time. It also gained a new function as a facility for manufacturing push-button phones scheduled for full-scale production. In April of that year, the Honjo Plant began full-scale production of Type-600 push-button phones. With the sendoff for the last Type-600 dial telephone still vivid in the minds of its employees, OKI stepped over the threshold to the next era of telephones at the renovated Honjo Plant.

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