Tokuji Hayakawa, aged 19, set up a metalworking business in Tokyo on 15th September 1912, having previously been apprenticed to a metalworker specialising in precision metal fittings.
In 1915 Hayakawa invented an improved version of the mechanical pencil or 'propelling pencil', made of brass and nickel. After a slow start to sales the propelling pencil became a bestseller, in Europe and the US as well as Japan, and numerous different models were produced. It was later renamed as the Ever-Sharp Pencil and this is the origin of the Sharp company name.
Then, in the Kanto earthquake of 1st September 1923, Hayakawa's wife and two children were killed and the mechanical pencil factory was burned down in the fires started by the earthquake. The business relocated to Osaka, which is still the location of Sharp's head office, to rebuild.
In 1925 radio broadcasts were soon to begin in Japan, but no radio sets were being made in the country and they had to be imported. Hayakawa and his assistants began to experiment with making crystal radio receivers (remember radio was still in its infancy at the time) and by June 1925 they were able to pick up the first broadcasts from the new radio station. The sets went into mass production immediately and were sold under the Sharp brand name. From 1926 radio sets were exported to China, India and Asia and in 1928 models using valve amplifiers were introduced, allowing output through a loudspeaker rather than an earpiece.
During the second world war the radio factory was requisitioned by the army to produce military communications equipment. After a difficult period following the war, sales of radio sets began to improve in the 1950s as commercial radio stations started broadcasting in Japan. Sharp added television sets to their product range in 1953 and demand for these rose very rapidly
In the early 1960s Sharp began research into semiconductors and computer products, which in 1964 led to the first all-transistor electronic calculator, the CS-10A. This was a desktop machine similar in size to a typewriter and contained 530 transistors and 2300 diodes.
From the mid 1960s the market for radios and televisions was beginning to saturate and retail sales were in decline, but this was soon turned around by the introduction of colour television and a subsequent new demand. Sharp was also one of the first manufacturers of microwave ovens from 1966 onwards, and addeded numerous other domestic appliances to their range.
The first Sharp personal computer, the MZ-80K, was launched at the end of 1978 and was followed over the next few years by the MZ-80A, MZ-80B and MZ-700 models, all of which sold steadily if not spectacularly well. Sharp were also one of the few makers of pocket computers, including the popular PC1500, and went on to produce a range of pocket organisers.
Tokuji Hayakawa died on 24th June 1980 at the age of 86. During the 1980s Sharp continued to sell consumer and office electronic products including stereo systems, compact disc players and electroluminescent display panels.
Sharp is one of the world's largest electronics businesses with a turnover of more than £10 billion in 2006 and employing over 47000 people. The company still makes computer products including notebook PCs and the Zaurus PDA, but seems to have abandoned the desktop computer market.