Aim for the light

Domestic Production of Optical Instruments and Original Manufacturing of Optical Glass

As Japan began to modernize in the early 20th century, the challenge was to catch up with Europe.
Developing Japanese industry was the pressing need in every field, and it was an especially urgent issue in the optical industry where high technology was crucial.



The origin of Nikon, as Nippon Kogaku K.K. was established

Nikon began as Nippon Kogaku K.K. (Japan Optical Industries Co., Ltd.) on July 25, 1917, at 120 Haramachi, Koishikawa-ku (present-day Hakusan 4-chome, Bunkyo-ku) in Tokyo, starting domestic production of optical instruments such as rangefinders and microscopes. This was the first of Nikon's many steps that now span a century.

During that era, the production of advanced optical instruments was a matter of national urgency for Japan. Entrusted with this objective was Koyata Iwasaki, the president of the Mitsubishi and nephew of Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki.

Hence, plans were made to establish an optics company by combining the optical instruments division of the Tokyo Keiki company and the mirror division of Iwaki Glass with Fujii Lens Manufacturing. This merger gave rise to Nippon Kogaku K.K. and, subsequently, the Nikon of today.

Nikon headquarters at the time Nikon headquarters at the time

Nikon headquarters at the time was within the Tokyo Keiki company at 120 Haramachi, Koishikawa-ku, Tokyo (present-day Hakusan 4-chome, Bunkyo-ku).

[movie]View a movie “The Birth of Nikon”



Oi Dai-ichi Plant (now Oi Plant) completed, and optical glass production started

In 1918, the company began researching optical glass but suspended operations when it could not fully address several technical difficulties. However, in 1922, when self-sufficiency of optical glass to supply domestic production of optical instruments became a necessity, research was resumed in earnest. Thus, in March 1923, to enable parallel research of both the theoretical and the practical, the company built glass research facilities in three sections including the No. 1 melting wing in its Oi Dai-ni plant, and installed facilities including a 500kg melting furnace, four cooling kilns and two test furnaces (20kg and 7kg capacities). The company then began test-melting optical glass around May of the same year, and performed its first kilning using a 350kg crucible in June.

Oi Dai-ichi Plant Oi Dai-ichi Plant

Oi Dai-ichi Plant in 1921. The tall building in the background is a five-story observatory.

Melting furnace

500kg melting furnace.



MIKRON 4x and 6x ultra-small-prism binoculars are marketed

The 1921 MIKRON ultra-small-prism binoculars were one of the first binocular models developed, designed and manufactured by Nikon. They were acclaimed for their compactness and high functionality, and are still a popular model after having been reproduced for sale in 1948 and 1997.

MIKRON 4x and 6x MIKRON 4x and 6x

One of the first binocular models developed, designed and manufactured by Nikon. It was reproduced in 1948 and 1997.


Inviting German engineers

With advances in optical technologies, eight engineers were invited by the company from Germany in 1921. These specialists included Professor Max Lange, who was a world authority on lens design, Heinrich Acht, who had rich experience in microscope design, Ernst Bernick, a leader in precision instrument technology, and Hermann Dillmann, a specialist in lens design and computation. The guidance of these engineers had a dramatic effect on improving the company's technologies.

They also initiated design for development of Nikon's photographic lenses. To catch up with the level of optical technologies of developed countries, the company started out by imitating, and named its series of lenses "Anytar," which were designed following the example of the Tessar lens that was the main lens type at the time. Heinrich Acht, who was the director of the mathematics section of the design department was placed in charge of the Anytar lens designs. It is said that Acht had a hand in almost all of the Anytar lens designs.

The Japanese designers made improvements after Acht returned to Germany. The Anytar 12cm F4.5 prototype was initially completed in 1929. It was then further modified, and by 1931 reached a level where it was no longer standing in the shadow of the original Tessar. It is recognized that there have been seven types of the Anytar lens, with focal lengths of 7.5cm, 10.5cm, 10.7cm, 12cm, 15cm, 18cm and 36cm.


Front of the Anytar 12cm F4.5

Side view of the Anytar 12cm F4.5

Side view of the Anytar 12cm F4.5 where Nippon Kogaku Tokyo is imprinted

Another side view Anytar 12cm F4.5

Another side view of the lens with imprint that reads Anytar 1:4.5 f=12cm



JOICO Microscope is marketed

Nikon has been involved in the development of the microscope since its founding, and microscopes are listed as production items in its articles of incorporation. Pouring efforts into development of the microscope, one of the specialists brought in from Germany was Heinrich Acht, an engineer with rich experience in microscope design. Acht was active in the design of microscope objective lenses, and improved lens precision by adopting and improving on new German-style systems. By bringing these efforts to fruition, the company released its JOICO Microscope in 1925. With its 765x magnification this instrument was a groundbreaking microscope for its time.

JOICO Microscope JOICO Microscope

The first microscope designed by Nikon. The trademark JOICO was from the initials of Japan Optical Industry Co., a translation of Nippon Kogaku K. K., the company's name at the time.



Established the mass production of optical glass

In September 1923, the company's glass research facilities were damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake and their operations had to be suspended. Recovery was completed by February of 1924, and glass research was then resumed. By March of 1927, 70 major melts and 220 trial melts had taken place. The purpose of these efforts was solely to improve glass quality and establish mass-production technology.

Meanwhile, for basic research, the company also set up an analysis laboratory in its Oi Dai-ni plant to determine basic specifications for glass materials and perform analysis on glass and crucible clays. Research into precision glass annealing was also begun, with a furnace built in the corner of a hallway to measure changes in test glass distortion. The first attempt made was to anneal a 20cm-diameter objective lens for a large binocular telescope and in 1927 successful annealing of glass for rangefinder pentaprisms was achieved. Through such research and much hand work, the company became able to manufacture optical glass of a quality equal to that made outside of Japan.



An 8-inch astronomical telescope is installed at Tokyo Science Museum (today's National Museum of Nature and Science)

In 1931, an 8-inch astronomical telescope was installed in the roof observatory dome on the newly completed Ueno wing of the Tokyo Science Museum. This was known as the 20cm equatorial refracting telescope and was the first full-fledged model of its kind to be produced in Japan. It boasted the largest caliber compared to other Japanese-made telescopes of the time. The device underwent major modifications in 1954 and continued to convey the fascination of the heavens to visitors for a total of over 70 years, the longest ever in Japan, until 2005. The telescope is now on permanent display in a zone called the Exploring the Universe located on basement level 3 of the Global Gallery at the National Museum of Nature and Science.

An 8-inch astronomical telescope

Nikon's first equatorial telescope had the largest diameter of any such telescope in Japan at the time. It remained in use until 2005.
Cooperation: The National Museum of Nature and Science

[movie]View a movie “The Stars and Nikon”



NIKKOR is adopted as the brand name for camera lenses

NIKKOR lenses were born of the strong desire of Japanese designers to domestically produce photographic lenses, for which the nation had up till that point been reliant on other countries. Designers went to Europe to observe its optical industry, and devoted their time to gathering information on photographic lenses, visiting camera store after camera store in Berlin. Finally, after obtaining samples, the designers returned to Japan, which is when the real struggle began.

Although modern computers can now be relied upon, lens design involves various complex calculations. Even painstakingly produced prototypes might not provide the expected image quality when used to shoot photographs, and compared to the current era, there were far fewer types of glass available for lenses. The company engaged in research by means of disassembly, measurement and assembly experiments following precision aberration measurement testing.

After these exercises in trial and error, the company produced its first lens in 1929, the Anytar 12cm F4.5. Then followed the successful development of a range of lens models, while considering a brand name for these products, as there were now definite prospects for photographic lens manufacture. Hence, combining the "NIKKO" abbreviation of the "Nippon Kougaku" company name with the letter "R" often used as a suffix for photographic lens names at the time, the company settled upon the NIKKOR brand name. This name was registered as a trademark in 1932.

Publication of the NIKKOR trademark application Publication of the NIKKOR trademark application

Publication of the NIKKOR trademark application. It was filed in July 1931, published in April 1932 and registered in December 1932.

[movie]View a movie “NIKKOR is Born”



Delivery of Aero-NIKKOR, a NIKKOR lens designed for aerial photography

NIKKOR lens history began in 1933 with the delivery of lenses designed to be used in aerial photography for map-making. These lenses were thus called "Aero-NIKKOR" with the prefix indicating their intended aerial purpose. The company first supplied NIKKOR lenses including a 70cm F5 and an 18cm F4.5 for compact aerial photographic applications.

From its historic beginnings, the NIKKOR range has continued to develop, and has grown to become synonymous with Japan's leading high-performance lenses.


One of the few Aero-NIKKOR 50cm F4.8 lenses still in existence