On this day in 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai, a company producing and marketing “Hanafuda” playing cards in Kyoto, Japan. Western-style playing cards were originally introduced to Japan by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, and after 300 years, by the 1800s, Japan had created a variety of card games.
The name Nintendo is the combination of three kanji characters nin, ten, and do and has been translated to mean “Leave luck to heaven.” Nintendo’s original playing cards were made from crushed bark and were eventually printed with Walt Disney characters.
The company remained dedicated to manufacturing playing cards and later other games until technological advances allowed them to expand into video gaming. Today, Nintendo Company, Limited or, simply, Nintendo is a household name and responsible for the creation of many beloved video game characters from Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. to Pokémon.
The more recent history of Nintendo, as is ingrained in our collective pixelated psyche, begins in 1980 with Donkey Kong, or Jumpman as it was originally known–the creation of celebrated video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The simple narrative of Donkey Kong–tireless carpenter out to save girlfriend from demented and highly physical ape–proved a winning formula that would inspire an endless stream of copycat games over the years. The tireless carpenter morphed into a plumber named Mario and he, of course, would soon be eating mushrooms with his skinny brother Luigi on television sets across the world.
The early 1980s was still an era of coin-operated arcade games that Nintendo dominated with Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Excitebike, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Punch-Out. But it was also the beginning of their cartridge-based consoles built for home use. In 1985 Nintendo released their Nintendo Entertainment System or NES. Within two years 60 million units were sold, and thus plumbers and long-eared potion-drinking heroes begin searching for elusive princesses in our homes.
As of 2010 the Super Mario Bros. franchise alone had sold over 240 million units, helping make Nintendo the multi-billion dollar company it is today. Nintendo has, however, struggled to keep pace with recent developments in the gaming industry, despite the success of their Wii console. But its recent history inspires one to think that Nintendo will just buckle up the old overalls and find their princess in the end. Or they may just decide to “leave luck to heaven.”