Olympus was established on October 12, 1919. It initially specialized in microscope and thermometer businesses.
Takeshi Yamashita became an attorney after graduating from Tokyo Imperial University Law school in 1915. After one year of military service, he joined Tokiwa Shokai, a trading company. He brought considerable profit to Tokiwa Shokai through sugar trading. Tokiwa Shokai then compensated his effort by allowing Mr. Yamashita to establish his own firm, Takachiho Seisakusho with Shintaro Terada, a friend from his lawyer days. The objective of Takachiho Seisakusho was to launch domestic production of microscopes.
Mr. Terada was the first Japanese to build microscopes using industrial techniques in the 1910s. A microscope built by Mr.Terada was exhibited at the Taisho Expo held in 1914 and won the bronze prize. Mr. Matsumoto of Iwashiya, a long-established medical equipment firm, financially supported him to produce "M&KATERA" microscopes. This name was created by combining the names of the three people involved in the development of this microscope: Mr.Matsumoto, Mr.Kato, and Mr.Terada.
Mr. Terada had been mainly making thermometers in Hongo, Tokyo. He gained sufficient experience in microscopes through building the M&KATERA model. Mr.Yamashita revealed his dream of building microscopes to Mr.Terada and asked him to come work for Takachiho Seisakusho. The manufacturing equipment of Terada Seisakusho was transferred to Takachiho Seisakusho, and Mr.Terada become the chief engineer of the company.
In 1923, the thermometer business was sold off. And most of the proceeds were invested in the microscope business. The company that purchased the thermometer business was authorized to use Olympus as its brand name.