Fusajiro Yamauchi, Founder of Nintendo

Nintendo began as a small card game company

Three people playing Super Mario Kart 8 on a Nintendo Switch and two Nintendo Switch Lite consoles.

Nintendo

Nintendo is mostly known for its video game consoles and popular franchises like Super Mario Bros. and Pokémon, but the company has its roots in 19th century Japan. Although he would never see or know about video games, Nintendo's founder Fusajiro Yamauchi is responsible for revolutionizing the worldwide gaming industry in ways that he could have never imagined.

Who Is the Founder of Nintendo?

Fusajiro Yamauchi, born November 22, 1859, was an artist and entrepreneur who lived in Kyoto, Japan during the late 19th century. At that time, card games had been banned in Japan for over 250 years in order to combat illegal gambling. However, a game called Hanafuda, which used illustrations instead of numbers for the gameplay, was developed to skirt legal prohibitions on playing cards. The Japanese government relaxed its restrictions, but Hanafuda (which means "flower cards") did not become popular right away.

In 1889, Yamauchi started a small business to produce a set Hanafuda cards featuring unique handcrafted artwork painted on the bark of mitsu-mata trees. He opened a shop called Nintendo Koppai to sell his custom game cards. The name was eventually shortened to "Nintendo," which was said to mean "leave luck to heaven."

The Nintendo hand-painted Hanafuda cards were a hit, and Yamauchi had to hire staff to help make more of them. By 1907, the company's cards were so popular that they needed to be mass-produced. Nintendo also began creating western-style playing cards, thus becoming Japan's largest playing cards manufacturer.

Nintendo Becomes Japan's Top Game Company

Over the next 40 years, Yamauchi's small business expanded into a major corporation, adding an expansive library of original card games developed specifically for Nintendo playing cards. In 1929, at the age of 70, Yamauchi retired, leaving his company in the charge of his adopted son-in-law Sekiryo Kaneda (who changed his name to Sekiryo Yamauchi).

For the next 11 years, Yamauchi remained out of the gaming business until his passing in 1940. Yamauchi would never know that the company he founded would expand to break new ground for a different kind of gaming four decades later.

Nintendo Expands to Video Games

Fast forward to the 1980s when Nintendo, having moved from card games to toys, found a powerful niche in electronic games. The Atari 2600 console was failing due to a slew of poor-quality games, which led to the video game crash of 1983. Nintendo saw a void in the marketplace and launched the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 to fill it.

Nintendo quickly dominated the U.S. video game market, releasing the Game Boy handheld gaming system in 1989 along with its famously successful game Tetris. By 2006, the company launched the Nintendo Wii, which quickly captured market share and became the first home video game system to sell over 10 million units in a single year. Nintendo is still going strong since the release of the Switch in 2017, nearly 130 years after the company's founding by Fusajiro Yamauchi.