Founded in Kyoto, Japan in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, Nintendo Co., Ltd. is best known as the world?s largest video game company. Until the 1970s, however, the company followed a different vision. Originally a small business known as Nintendo Koppai, the company produced handmade hanafuda playing cards. These cards became so popular that Yamauchi expanded his staff in order to mass-produce them. In 1953, Nintendo became the first Japanese company to manufacture playing cards from plastic, rather than the mulberry tree bark traditionally used for hanafuda. The company?s popularity increased dramatically in 1959, when Nintendo officially licensed the use of Disney characters on its cards.
In the 1960s, Nintendo experimented with new ventures, such as a taxi service, a chain of love hotels, a food company that sold instant rice, and household products such as vacuum cleaners. All of these failed, however, except for a foray into toy making. In 1966, designer Gunpei Yokoi, then a maintenance engineer, created the Ultra Hand after being inspired by a mechanical extending arm used in hanafuda manufacturing. This breakout toy sold over a million units and heralded Nintendo?s forthcoming success in the toy and game industry. Future products included board games, puzzles, building sets, and early mechanical and electric toys such as the Ultra Machine and Love Tester.
Beginning in the 1970s, Nintendo shifted its focus more and more toward electronic gaming, creating such products as early light guns, the precursors to the famous NES Zapper, and a line of dedicated home gaming consoles called the Color TV-Game. These paved the way for Nintendo?s first arcade games, including Radar Scope (1979) and Donkey Kong (1981), and a line of dedicated handhelds known as the Game & Watch (1980). Its first home video game console, the Nintendo Family Computer, or Famicon, put Nintendo on the electronic gaming map, and with its international release in 1985 as the Nintendo Entertainment System, it achieved worldwide fame and recognition as one of the key players in the video game industry.