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(established 1918)

One of the largest manufacturers of electrical consumer products in the world this Japanese multinational company has a number of brand names in its corporate portfolio including National (established in 1927), Panasonic (first used in 1955), Technics (first used in 1964), and Quasar (established 1974), a brand name specific to North American markets. The dynamic driving force behind the company for more than half a century was its founder Konosuke Matsushita, who established a business devoted to the manufacture of plugs and sockets in 1918. Early electrical products included bullet‐shaped bicycle lamps (1923) and the Super Iron (1927), the first product to carry the National brand identity and which was mass produced at the rate of 100,000 per year. The product range expanded in the early 1930s to include radios, an early best‐seller being the R‐48 four‐tube radio of 1932. In the following year Matsushita introduced a Divisional System into the company, with three separate divisions devoted to different and distinct aspects of the company's activities. After the Second World War Konosuke Matsushita allied his company policies to those of national recovery. Building on efforts to develop Western markets in the 1930s, he visited the USA in 1951 to study American business methods. On his return to Japan he established a small industrial design department, reputed to be the first in Japan, growing to more than 50 members of staff by the end of the decade. The forging of links with Philips in the Netherlands in 1952 further enhanced the company's profile, as did the establishment of the Matsushita Electric Corporation of America in 1959. The company's manufacture of domestic appliances such as fridges, rice cookers, and vacuum cleaners grew rapidly as the decade evolved, Japan's remarkable economic growth leading to a boom in their consumption. Typifying this trend, the National MC‐1000C plastic vacuum cleaner of 1965 was lighter than its metal counterparts and had attachments for a variety of tasks. Very popular in Japan, selling 630,000 over the two years in which it was in production, the appliance also met approval on aesthetic grounds in its receipt of a G‐Mark award in 1966. The design of audio‐visual products was not left behind and the National DX‐350 radio designed by Zenichi Mano, winner of the Mainichi Industrial Design Competition in 1953, was an early attempt to marry a contemporary industrial product with a Japanese design identity by reference to the traditional architectural designs. More obvious in this respect was the 1964 Asuka SE 200 stereo radiogram, characterized by the sweeping horizontal lines and subtle proportions of its wooden casing. By this time Konusuke Matsushita himself had become widely known as a highly successful entrepreneur, appearing on the cover of Time magazine in February 1952 and featuring in Life magazine in September 1964. Konosuke, Matsushita's president until 1961, chairman of the board until 1973, and adviser until his death in 1988, also wrote several books including the international best‐seller Japan at the Brink (1974) and Not for Bread Alone: A Business Ethic, A Management Ethic (1984). Product diversity and innovations such as a thin radio in 1977 and a paper‐thin battery in 1979 helped maintain the company's competitive edge. Design still remained a significant ingredient as in the soft lines and asymmetrical form of the Piedra portable colour television of 1987 aimed at affluent metropolitan singles and which earned a G‐Mark Award in 1988. Other Matsushita product lines of the 1990s included computer notebooks, portable phones, and DVD players. As well as raising its profile through the acquisition of MCA, owner of Universal Studios, in 1990 the company also established a number of academic chairs at leading universities. These included Matsushita professorships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1975), the Harvard Business School (1981), Stanford University (1985), and the Watson School at Pennsylvania University (1991).


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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