Unchanging Innovation and Changing Economic Performance in Japan

Working Paper
01-5
May 2001

The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology gives its visitors much to ponder. Established at the site in Nagoya where in 1911 Sakichi Toyoda founded his automatic loom factory (the basis of the family fortune, which later funded his son Kiichiro’s development of automobile production), the museum was opened on June 11, 1994, the 100th anniversary of Toyoda’s birth. It is a popular stop on field trips for Japanese schoolchildren, who are required to study in the 3rd grade the automobile industry. The messages, which Toyota wishes to instill in its young visitors, are the importance of “making things” and of “creativity and research.” And confronting all museum visitors upon entry, having central place in the vast and largely empty first room of the exhibits, is Sakichi Toyoda’s one-of-a-kind vertical circular loom. As described in the museum’s catalog, “Even in the closing years of his life, [Sakichi Toyoda] continued to work to perfect the [vertical] circular loom.

To symbolize this unfailing spirit of his, we are proud to exhibit the only circular loom he developed that is still in existence.” This first “Symbolic Exhibit in the Museum,” whose distinctive outline serves as the museum’s logo, was manufactured in 1924. Though Toyoda first applied for a patent in 1906 on a circular loom design, and eventually held a patent in 18 countries for the concept, and though the circular loom is quieter than flat looms (meaning it is also more energy efficient) and able to produce longer bolts of cloth without seams, the circular loom was never produced in volume. In fact, no sales, let alone profits, were ever made from this innovation. In 1924, Toyoda also perfected the Type G Automatic Loom, a flat “nonstop shuttle changing loom”–embodying an incremental but significant improvement on previous loom technology–which became Toyota’s all-time bestseller in the sector. The Type G Loom, however, is not the museum’s symbolic first exhibit or logo; instead, it takes its place chronologically back in the succession of exhibits.