This is the story of 'Mister
Rocket', a nickname for Sasaki TADASHI or... the future of calculator
Sasaki Tadashi was born in Hamada (Japan) in 1915 and grew up in Taiwan. He
did study electrical engineering, when WWII intervened, Sasaki joined the
Ministry of communications, where he did research on vacuum tubes for
telephones and radar.
After the war, he joined a company called KOBE KOGYO, There he needed to
improve his knowledge of new vacuum tubes technologies, so he did travel to
the USA on a regular base to catch up at WESTERN ELECTRIC. In the US, Sasaki
was introduced and had a meeting with Mr. BARDEEN, one of the key persons in
developing the transistor.
Transistor technology was rather inaccessible those days, due to patents.
When, in 1951 BELL Labs threw open the transistor patents, Sasaki was more
than interested. Begin 1953, KOBE KOGYO became the first Japanese company to
make a transistor, ahead of SONY and other, much larger Japanese companies.
Later on, other Japanese firms also issued transistor licenses (HITACHI in
May 1953, TOSHIBA in August 1953).
Due to bad management, KOBE KOGYO's financial situation slid from bad to
worse, in the early 60's the company was forced to merge with FUJITSU, at
the time a telecommunications equipment provider. Sasaki wasn't interested
in staying with FUJITSU, and did consider a professorship at Kyoto
University, but by coincidence he met Saeki AKIRA, senior executive of
HAYAKAWA Electric Industry. In 1961, HAYAKAWA (later SHARP) became the first
Japanese company to develop a microwave oven.
After due deliberation, Sasaki accepted to join HAYAKAWA. Sasaki was
searching for a product to pull the ailing firm out of the Japanese
recession in the early 1960's. This could be a compact electronic
calculator, just as the transistor radio was well scattered, calculators
This was not an 100% original idea, there were already electronic
calculators around, for example the
Anita Mark XIII ,
but this machine was based on miniature
tubes (the type that KOBE KOGYO manufactured). HAYAKAWA launched its first
calculator on 30-jun-1964, the
This calculator was introduced
as the first 'all-transistor-diode'-calculator, probably to differentiate it
from the SONY Sobax 'all-transistor'-calculator, which was introduced a few
months earlier, but the SONY was not a mass production machine, only a
The SHARP calculator did weight 25kg, contained 2830 transistor and diodes
and did cost the same price as a Japanese Car, hardly affordable to
The next step in evolution was the product of a vision: In 1965, Sasaki from
HAYAKAWA and Patrick HAGGERTY, chairman from TEXAS INSTRUMENTS, did share
the same wish: producing a real pocket calculator.
In 1967, Jack KILBY and his co-workers from TI, managed to deliver this
dream... but TI did not start any production and left the achievement more
as a goal or commercial benefit. Only in 1970, the achievement was
finally used to produce a commercial calculator, this product was the
But in the late 1960's, Sasaki remained unstoppable, he was desperately
searching for a company which could supply MOS-IC's: MOS (Metal Oxide
Semiconductors) technology permitted to integrate thousands of elements on a
chip, in other words: LSI (Large Scale Integration). At the time, the
three biggest Japanese chip makers were: NEC, HITACHI and MITSUBISHI.
None of them were interested, they all opined that LSI MOS-IC's was untried
technology, bound to fail. Perhaps not that wrongful, it was extreme
difficult to produce reliable MOS components.
Sasaki flew back to the USA, where he did visit some people at FAIRCHILD,
the company that had solved some major MOS problems. The answer was a
In the next step Sasaki tried to convince 10 other US firms, but in every
case, the answer was that making MOS chips was very difficult, the yields
far too low. Maybe everyone was too busy making chips for the US Air force,
they did pay top dollar, the profit margins that Sasaki had in mind were
Then, just as the flight back to Japan was ready to board, Sasaki was
requested to revisit AUTONETICS, a giant aerospace conglomerate of NORTH
AMERICAN ROCKWELL. Something Sasaki has said did evidently stuck in the mind
of AUTONETCIS's president.
By early 1969, AUTONETICS was confident to make a calculator chipset with
only 4 IC's Each chip would integrate the equivalent of 2000 transistors. In
March 1969 HAYAKAWA awarded AUTONETICS a $30 million contract to produce the
indented chips. Short after this, HAYAKAWA did unveil, at an industry show
in a New York hotel, the first electronic calculator equipped with MOS IC's... the
In September 1969 AUTONETICS
shipped it's first 25.000 MOS chips. The following year, SHARP did produce
its one million calculator, equipped with AUTONETICS ROCKWELL MOS-IC's.
ROCKWELL began to produce calculators under its own name from 1970-1977.
In 1977, the company decided to exit consumer electronics. Today,
SHARP is still making calculators. In Japan, not everyone was pleased
with the SHARP-ROCKWELL cooperation, after a period, Sasaki had to go back
to ROCKWELL to tell that there would be no further orders. TOSHIBA was keen
to get in the calculator business and did contact Sasaki, who recommended
research on new C-MOS (Complementary MOS) technology.
C-MOS calculators would be truly portable. SHARP finally did choose to make
there own chips, CASIO (the #2 producer) would buy them from NEC and CANON
(the #3 Japanese producer) would also buy chips instead of making them.
Off all the calculator producers, SHARP was certainly the most aggressive