Genzo Shimadzu, Sr., and Genzo Shimadzu, Jr.

Genzo Shimadzu, Sr.

Genzo Shimadzu, Sr.

Japan’s rapid modernization in the second half of the 19th century was made possible by such people of vision as Genzo Shimadzu, Sr. and Jr.

Genzo Shimadzu, Jr.

Genzo Shimadzu, Sr., began his career as a maker of Buddhist altars, but Japan’s growing interest in Western technology after 1868 opened his eyes to new opportunities. Through the Physics and Chemistry Research Institute in Kyoto, Shimadzu eagerly and quickly absorbed knowledge about new technologies. Soon he was using his mechanical abilities to repair and maintain foreign equipment, while learning everything he could about the devices he worked on. Next he began to manufacture such equipment—distillation devices, evacuation apparatus, Atwood’s machines, and even medical equipment—supplying them to Japanese schools. As his business grew, so did his reputation. In time he was invited to teach in the metal-working department of the Kyoto Prefecture Normal School.

His untimely death in 1894 at the age of 55 transferred ownership of his business to his oldest son, Umejiro, who changed his name to Genzo, determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Genzo Shimadzu, Jr., had grown up in the business his father created. In this environment he acquired technical and inventive skills that outstripped his father’s. With his younger brothers, Genkichi and Tsunesaburo, he took the Shimadzu business into new areas. In 1895 he created a department for science specimens. In 1897 the company launched the manufacture of storage batteries, a technology of particular importance for Japan. Shimadzu made a number of contributions in this area: most notably, he developed a revolutionary method for manufacturing high-quality reactive lead powder, an essential ingredient for storage batteries.  

Starting in 1897 Shimadzu also devoted a considerable amount of his research efforts to developing X-ray equipment, making his company a pioneer in this technology. In 1909 Shimadzu Corporation built its first medical X-ray machine, which was also the first produced in Japan. The power source was a Shimadzu storage battery.

Genzo Shimadzu, Jr.’s, efforts to create new technologies were recognized in 1930 at a dinner given by the emperor of Japan, where Shimadzu was designated one of the top 10 inventors in his country. He continued to develop new devices throughout his life. By his death in 1951 he had registered 178 inventions in 12 countries. During his lifetime Shimadzu Corporation became an innovative force, providing researchers with many tools for discovery, ranging from balances to spectrographs to industrial X-ray equipment.

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CHF’s Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields. Many of the oral histories in the collection belong to winners of CHF’s awards, including

  • Arnold Beckman, winner of the Othmer Gold Medal (2000)
  • Robert Allington, winner of the Pittcon Heritage Award (2005)
  • Carl Djerassi, winner of the Othmer Gold Medal (2000), the AIC Gold Medal (2004), and the Ullyot Public Affairs Lecturer (1995)
  • Gordon Cain, winner of the Petrochemical Heritage Award (1997)

Listen to their extraordinary stories today!

 

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