April 22, 1870 – Mitsubishi is founded with 3 old steam ships

After purchasing three agin steam ships, including the Golden Age (above), Yataro Iwasaki founded Mitsubishi Group on this day in 1870 as a shipping company. Iwasaki grew his business quickly by becoming the first Japanese business to offer overseas mail delivery to China. Over the next few years competition heated up on the seas, including with government rivals, but Mitsubishi was playing several other fields ashore during this time. Aside from shipping, the company expanded into mining copper and coal, and shipbuilding. In 1893, Yataro’s son Hisaya, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, became president of the company. He set up different divisions within the company, including banking, real estate, and marketing. Eventually, an automotive development group was founded. 

Above: Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki
Top: Engraving of the Golden Age steamship, when it was part of the New York & Australia Steamship Company Fleet

However, before Mitsubishi Motors was created, this shipbuilding component of the company would lead the charge to create the first production Mitsubishi car. Their efforts gave birth to the Mitsubishi Model A, which debuted in 1917. The Model A was Japan’s first series production car. During the same era the company began producing airplanes, tanks, buses, as well as a separate division that produced electrical equipment and home appliances. The company would continue to produce heavy machinery through WWII. However, at the end of the war the many separate businesses under the Mitsubishi name disbanded under pressure from occupying forces.

Mitsubishi Model A with workers in 1917

In 1954 more than 100 individual companies that had once been part of Mitsubishi combined together to re-establish the Mitsubishi Corporation, this didn’t include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, responsible for the production of automobiles and other vehicles. However, 10 years later it too would be reborn. Today the Mitsubishi Group is made up of about 40 individual companies and continues to manufacture everything from air conditioners to airplanes.

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