It would not fit. Late in 1957, as Tadao and Toshio Kashio waited to load their desk-sized calculator onto a plane at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, they were told they would have to dismantle it first. If you can just remove this top part here, an attendant told them, gesturing to the keyboard and display, it will fit on the airplane. If we do that, the Kashios pleaded, it may break. And so it did. When they arrived at Taiyo Sales in Sapporo to demonstrate their reassembled machine, it refused to work, and the brothers had to fall back on a slideshow. The future of their calculator, and that of the Kashio family business, seemed to hang in the balance.
The Kashio brothers—Tadao, Toshio, Kazuo, and Yukio—were quite different from the inventors and engineers who had gone before them. They did not have Blaise Pascal’s mathematical prowess, or Samuel Morland’s royal connections. They did not have Charles Xavier Thomas’s considerable income, or Curt Herzstark’s family tradition of engineering. What they did have was a finger-mounted cigarette holder that let Japan’s workers get their nicotine fix both on and off the job.
The Kashios hailed from a village on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku, where their parents farmed rice paddies. In 1923, however, in the aftermath of an earthquake that flattened Tokyo and Yokohama and left an estimated 140,000 dead, Shigeru Kashio moved his young family to the country’s capital to help rebuild it. To save money on the commute to his construction job, Shigeru walked for up to five hours each day rather than take public transport.