THE STORY OF MISTER ROCKET

by

Serge Devidts


History

This is the story of 'Mister Rocket', a nickname for Sasaki TADASHI or... the future of calculator electronics, retrospectively.

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 could follow.

This was not an 100% original idea, there were already electronic calculators around, for example the
SUMLOCK: 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 SHARP: CS10A  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 prototype.

The SHARP calculator did weight 25kg, contained 2830 transistor and diodes and did cost the same price as a Japanese Car, hardly affordable to everyone.

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
CANON: Pocketronic.

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 straight No.

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 very small.

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
SHARP: QT8D.

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 innovator.


This article written by Mr. Devidts was originally published on his Web site BE-CALC, and has been posted here with Mr. Devidts's authorization.
  Copyright   2007  Serge Devidts

Updated May 08, 2007

HISTORY ALBUM MUSEUMS COLLECTORS RESOURCES

X-Number World