Sōichirō Honda (本田 宗一郎, Honda Sōichirō, November 17, 1906 – August 5, 1991) was a Japanese engineer and industrialist, and founder of Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
Honda was born in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan on November 17, 1906. He spent his early childhood helping his father, Gihei, a blacksmith, with his bicycle repair business. At the time his mother, Mika, was a weaver. At 15, without any formal education, Honda left home and headed to Tokyo to look for work. He obtained an apprenticeship at a garage in 1922, and after some hesitation over his employment, he stayed for six years, working as a car mechanic before returning home to start his own auto repair business in 1928 at the age of 22.
In 1937 Honda began producing piston rings for small engines, which led to manufacturing small engines to be used in motorcycles, and then in 1948 he started producing complete motorcycles as president of the Honda Motor Company. Honda turned the company into a billion-dollar multinational that produced the best-selling motorcycles in the world. Honda's engineering and marketing skills resulted in Honda motorcycles' outselling Triumph and Harley-Davidson in their respective home markets. In 1959 Honda Motorcycles opened its first dealership in the United States.
Honda remained president until his retirement in 1973, stayed on as director, and was appointed "supreme adviser" in 1983. His status was such that People magazine placed him on their "25 Most Intriguing People of the Year" list for 1980, dubbing him "the Japanese Henry Ford." In retirement Honda busied himself with work connected with the Honda Foundation. He died in 1991 from liver failure.
Soichiro Honda was born in Hamamatsu on November 17, 1906. His father, Gihei Honda, was the local blacksmith, but could turn his hands to most things, including dentistry when the need arose. His mother, Mika, was a weaver.
Honda's subsequent spirit of adventure and determination to explore the development of new technology had its roots in his childhood. The family was not wealthy, but Gihei Honda instilled into his children the ethic of hard work, and a love of mechanical things. Soichiro soon learned how to whet the blades of farm machinery, and how to make his own toys. A nearby rice mill was powered by a small engine, and the noise fascinated him. He would demand daily that his grandfather take him to watch it in action. At school he got the nickname "black nose weasel", which is less derogatory in Japanese than it sounds in English, because his face was always dirty from helping his father in the forge.
Soichiro Honda's childhood days are full of examples of technical ingenuity, including using a bicycle pedal rubber to replicate his family's seal. At that time, the school handed grade reports to the children, but required that it will be returned stamped with the family seal, to make sure that a parent had seen it. The fraud was soon discovered when Honda started to make forged stamps for other children. Honda did not realise that the stamp had to be mirror-imaged. His family name 本田 was symmetrical when written vertically, so it did not cause problem, but some of other children's family names were not.
The bicycles had another use: Those that his father sold from the shop he subsequently opened helped Honda to hone his engineering skills. As he grew, the dream of the car on the country road acted like a magnetic force, drawing him ever closer towards things mechanical. In 1917 a pilot named Art Smith flew into the Wachiyama military airfield to demonstrate his biplane's aerobatic capabilities. Honda raided the family's petty cash box, "borrowed" one of his father's bicycles and rode 20 kilometres to a place he had never before visited. When he got there he soon realized that the price of admission, let alone a flight, was far beyond his meagre means, but after climbing a tree he watched the plane in motion, and that was enough. When Gihei Honda learned what his son had done to get to the airfield, he was more impressed with his initiative, determination and resilience than he was angry with him for taking the money and the bike.