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A Historical Look at Olympus - Part One
Article Index
A Historical Look at Olympus - Part One
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Orinpasu Kabushiki-gaisha. Better known as Olympus Imaging Corporation. To many from the OM era, it's Olympus Optical Co. Ltd. So what makes this company such an enigmatic maverick, a defiantly different camera maker? How did they ever come to think so divergently, so innovatively? In size, they don't compare to any of their rivals and yet they continually come up with David's lethal slingshot to upstage their more "glamorous" competitors.


Part One of "A Historical Look at Olympus" takes you back to one afternoon in 1919, downtown Tokyo....



Olympus Corporation




Information in Brief

Organisation Name

Olympus Imaging Corporation


1919; Tokyo, Japan

Head of Organisation

Tsuyoshi Kikukawa; Representative Director / President

Product Categories

Precision machinery and instruments, film and digital including microscope cameras, voice and Microcassette recorders, magneto-optical drives, projectors, printers, medical endoscopes, microscopes and other medical devices


813 billion Yen for fiscal year ending March 2005

Employee Population

2,907 as at April 1 2005 (non-consolidated Olympus Corp only)

Official Website

First Product in History

Asahi microscope; 1920

First Camera Product in History

Zuiko 75mm f4.5 lens for the Semi-Olympus I roll-film folding camera; 1936

History of Name Changes

Oct 12 1919

Establishment of Takachiho Seisakusho by Takeshi Yamashita, the founder.

May 28 1942

Renamed Takachiho Optical Co., Ltd. (Takachiho Kogaku Kogyo Co., Ltd.)

Jan 1 1949

Renamed Olympus Optical Co., Ltd.

Oct 1 2003

Renamed Olympus Corporation

Camera division called Olympus Imaging Corporation

History of Logo Changes



The first corporate logo was “TOKIWA,” not “OLYMPUS.” “TOKIWA” was derived from Tokiwa Shokai, the company which the founder, Takeshi Yamashita, had worked for. Tokiwa Shokai held an equity stake in Takachiho Seisakusho and was responsible for marketing Takachiho products.

The logo reads “TOKIWA TOKYO.” The “G” and “M” marks above are believed to be the initials of, Goro Matsukata, the president of Tokiwa Shokai.



The Olympus brand was introduced in February 1921.

This logo was used for microscopes and other products. Brochures and newspaper ads for cameras also sported this logo. The OLYMPUS TOKYO logo is still in use today.

There was a period in which OIC was used instead of TOKYO in the logo. OIC stood for Optical Industrial Company, which was a translation of Olympus' Japanese corporate name at that time. This logo was used for the GT-I and GT-II endoscopes, among others.



This logo, used from 1970 to 2000, was designed to give impressions of quality and sophistication.



The yellow line underneath the logo is called the “Opto-Digital Pattern” and it represents light and boundless possibilities of digital technology. It symbolises dynamic and innovative nature of Opto-Digital Technology and Olympus Corporation. This logo is called the Communication Symbol of Olympus and it represents Olympus’ brand image.

Cultural Significant Names at Olympus


Originated from Zuiho, which is a concatenation of Mizuho Kogaku-kenkyujo, the company’s first optical plant

Def: Light of the gods; ‘light showing a sign of auspicious events’; ‘golden light’

Mju (μ)

Olympus utilised this Greek alphabetical symbol to denote the compact size of its second-generation autofocus XA successor series.

Def: Greek for ‘micro’ or diminutive, twelfth letter of the Greek alphabet

Infinity ()

Olympus deployed this Greek alphabetical symbol to denote the endless possibilities of its first-generation autofocus XA successor series

Def: Latin for ‘limitless’ or without ending or ‘reduced mass’, derived from the Latin word ‘infinitas’ or ‘unboundedness’,


Olympus chose this name to denote one of its Limited Edition classic cameras although not much is know as to what the reason behind this naming was

Def: Word to describe the shade greyish-pale yellow or light greyish-yellowish brown, derived from the French word écru, which means literally ‘raw’ or ‘unbleached.’ There was a time when ecru was regarded as being somewhat similar in colour to beige.

Epsilon (ε)

Look carefully at the E symbol used for Olympus’ Four-Thirds based E-System. The Greek definition fits perfectly because the E-System represents exactly what the Greek alphabet means

Def: Greek for ‘a small positive quantity’, fifth letter of the Greek alphabet

In computing terms, it means ‘the precision of a numeric data type’ 


Olympus nicknamed its AFL Quickflash camera the ‘pika’, which is a Japanese word to accentuate the camera’s ability to discharge the flash very quickly courtesy of its lithium battery

Def: Pika in Japanese means ‘light’ but pika-pika means ‘twinkle’


Olympus used this Japanese term to define its AF-1 weatherproof camera as the word in its original state means ‘wet flash’

Def: Nure in Japanese generally means ‘wet.’ For example, the common Japanese phrase, ‘nure ochiba-zoku’ literally means ‘wet leaf tribe’ but in actuality refers to ‘emotionally spent salarymen.’ For ‘pika,’ refer to the above.


Olympus chose a different name for its μ [mju:] series of compact cameras for the North American market but interestingly, the word ‘stylus’ is as close as one will get to being a writing device or apparatus or as it is, a Pen. It is a more stylised way to say the same thing. Ironically Olympus did have the highly successful Pen-series during the Sixties. And the Stylus name has enjoyed similar success in America and Canada.


There is no basis is I could recall where there is an actual meaning behind the name Deltis, although admittedly it does sound Latinesque or Greek. It sounds close enough to Delta or Atlantis or something similar. Olympus used this name not only for its still video camera range of the early Nineties but it repeated its use for its magneto-optical drives.


Yoshihisa Maitani’s decision to use the name Trip for its simple point-and-shoot classic camera is one of simple logic. He used the name to emphasise the indispensability of the 35mm auto compact camera in any holiday trips that a family makes. That in a trip, photography is an essential part of it and so the Olympus Trip plays its role in every family’s recording of its vacations.


Here is another of Maitani-san’s masterpiece naming lesson. The name Pen is used for the company’s 35mm half-frame cameras including the classic Pen-F but essentially it was chosen to define the simple indispensable nature of what a pen is like in every day life. Wherever we go, we place a pen in our breast pocket. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t require any extraneous thinking. It is not a complicated decision to do so. And the pen is as ubiquitous as it comes. Maitani-san’s decision to call the half-frame cameras Pen is solely based on this philosophy – simple no-brainer thing we all do subconsciously.


The name Camedia comes from two words – Camera and Multimedia. Olympus uses this coined name to define the coming of age of its first digital camera family. The part Multimedia underpins the new role that cameras play now that they are in the digital age. Multimedia expresses the camera’s ability to convey images through different types of media that is underpinned by the new digital era such as movie recording and playback, the ability of the camera to connect directly to the printer, television and computer. Hence the multimedia capabilities. And hence the name Camedia.


Olympus used the name Centurion for its APS-based Bridge ZLR cameras. The word basically means an officer of the Roman Army who is in command of a hundred soldiers. The root word is Century. The native derivation of the word comes from Latin ‘centuriō.’ A Roman centurion was distinctive because of his uniform. His armour was noticeably silvered, which might be why the Olympus Centurion was also silver in body finish. A centurion also wore his decorations and awards prominently to show his bravery., Copyright 2011, Kenneth E Norton, and Image66media