Nintendo, originally known as Marufuku Nintendo Card Co., was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi in 1889. Yamauchi initially ran a company called Haiko, which specialized in cement. He was adopted as an adult by his boss Naoshichi Yamauchi, a common practice in Japan to ensure family businesses could continue even without a biological son. Nintendo remained a family business until the retirement of Fusajiro’s great-grandson Hiroshi Yamauchi in 2002.
The company began by producing traditional Japanese playing cards called ‘hanafuda,’ with each card being hand-crafted and painted. Nintendo later expanded to include Western playing cards as well. The company became the first Japanese company to successfully manufacture and sell Western-style playing cards.
In 1959, Nintendo entered into an agreement with Walt Disney to incorporate Disney characters into their cards, and they also developed a distribution system to sell their products in toy stores. The company’s success led to the creation of an arcade game development department in 1979.
In 1980, Nintendo released its first handheld video game system, the Game & Watch, created by Gunpei Yokoi. The system became one of the company’s most successful products, selling over 43.4 million units worldwide. Nintendo’s arcade game success continued in 1981 with the release of Donkey Kong, one of their most popular games.