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Sumitomo Electric 120 Years of History

Established in 1897, our company will celebrate its 120th anniversary next year. We would like to take this opportunity to launch a new project to review our history. Following our chronology, we have selected some topics and tidbits that played a part in forming what we are today. In the first round of the series, we will focus on our prehistory of Sumitomo’s origins, dating back more than 400 years, to our company’s establishment.

1st Round: 1590 – 1897(Formation of the company)


Riemon Soga (the father of Tomomochi Sumitomo, the second head of the Sumitomo Family), launches a copper refining business in Kyoto. He later develops nanban-buki, a foreign-style smelting technique.

This was a technique for separating silver from unrefined copper, enabling high-purity refined copper and silver to be collected separately. Learning smelting theory from Portuguese and Spanish engineers, Riemon developed nanban-buki and disclosed it even to those in the same trade. This was an innovative technique in the history of mining, making Riemon the trailblazer of copper smelting in Japan.

Nanban-buki (from Kodo-Zuroku)
Photo by courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Masatomo Sumitomo, the first head of the Sumitomo Family, opens Fujiya, a pharmacy, publisher and bookstore, in Kyoto.

Monjuin Shiigaki (The Aphorisms of Monjuin)
Written by Masatomo in his later years, the document states basic rules to be observed by merchants. The rules later evolved into the cornerstone of the current Sumitomo Spirit.

Photo by courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Tomonobu Sumitomo, the third head of the Sumitomo Family, begins developing the Yoshioka copper mine.

The Yoshioka copper mine
Tomonobu began managing the Yoshioka copper mine, located in present-day Takahashi City, Okayama Prefecture, before beginning to develop the Besshi copper mine.

Here, Sumitomo Electric Sintered Alloy, Ltd. operates one of the world’s largest sintered part plants.

Photo by courtesy of Takahashi Municipal Tourism Association

The Besshi copper mine is discovered.


Development of the Besshi copper mine starts

The Besshi copper mine
The manager of the Yoshioka copper mine was informed that there was a vein of copper on the opposite shore of the copper mine (in present-day Niihama City, Ehime Prefecture). This led to the discovery of Mt. Besshi, one of the world’s largest copper mines, and the start of the mine’s development.

Photo by courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

Nihon Seido Co., Ltd. is established.


The Sumitomo Family acquires Nihon Seido Co., Ltd.


The Sumitomo Family opens Sumitomo Copper Rolling Works in Ajigawa (present-day Kita Ward, Osaka City).

Sumitomo Copper Rolling Works
Acquiring the factory of Nihon Seido Co., Ltd. (present-day Noda, in Fukushima Ward, Osaka City), the Sumitomo Family opened Sumitomo Copper Rolling Works. Taking advantage of that momentum, the Sumitomo Family established its head office on the south side of the front of the factory (present-day Kita Ward, Osaka City). Presently, Sumitomo Copper Rolling Works has been replaced with the Osaka Municipal Wholesale Market Honjo.

Photo by courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

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