Of all the Japanese brands that have ebbed and flowed on the tide of electronic product innovation over the last two decades, Sharp is the name that sticks in the mind.
Sharp. It’s a stab of a name that says, quite literally, cutting edge and precision. With its monosyllabic concision and directness of meaning, how exquisitely apposite it is for a maker of liquid crystal display panels. It tells you so much more about the pin-sharp brilliance of television picture quality than the likes of Panasonic, Toshiba, Sanyo and sorry old Sony.
Except, of course, that rationale is a complete fantasy. It’s what I’d like to think the name was meant to mean. In fact, Sharp has nothing to do with clarity or TV pictures: the $36 billion corporation owes its name to a pencil.
The company was founded in 1912 as the Hayakawa Metal Industrial Laboratory by Tokuji Hayakawa, an inventor and tinkerer.
Hayakawa made a mechanical pencil that consisted of a retractable graphite lead in a metal rod. He named it the ‘Ever-Ready Sharp’ pencil (not to be confused with Charles Keeran’s Eversharp pencil – that’s another story entirely).
Demand for this simple and durable instrument was immense. Its success provided Hayakawa with the means to turn his attention to radios and in 1951 the company began development of an experimental TV set. Two years later when television broadcasting started, Hayakawa Electric (as it was then) introduced its first commercial television set under the brand name ‘Sharp’ in honor of the pencil.
Hayakawa retired from the day-to-day operations in 1970, assuming the title of chairman. That year, Hayakawa Electric also adopted a new name: Sharp Corporation
Sharp owes its ascendancy as a global brand to its devotion to and far-sighted investment in LCD technology, which gives us today’s color computer screens and flat panel TVs.
An immensely satisfying aspect of the Sharp name is the direct connection it has to the inventiveness of the company and its founder, and to the honest integrity of that most basic of creative tools: the pencil.