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  ICBTT2004 Technology & Society Division, JSME

William R. Gorham (1888-1949) and Japanese Industry

KAWAKAMI kenjiro

Gorham was a US-born engineer. He renounced his US citizenship to become a naturalized Japanese citizen. During a period of time from after World War I until immediately after World War II, he played a big role in introducing and transferring an American concept of technological rationalism to the machinery industry in Japan, especially in the fields of design, development and production of machines.

Key Words: technological rationalism, modern production engineering, turret lathes

Gorham took an active part in Japan during his lifetime from age 30 to death. He devoted his life to the introduction and transfer of technologies from the United States to Japan. In this article, we will look back on the outstanding achievements of Gorham.

Gorham was born in San Francisco, U.S.A. on January 4, 1888. In his infancy, he made visits to Japan, accompanying his father, William J. Gorham. His farther was a business person who worked as Asia area manager at a tire manufacturer, Goodrich, and traveled on business between the United States and Japan or China.

The engineer, Gorham, was nicknamed "whiz kid." "self-made man" and "barn engineer". In his infancy, he retained wide technical interests, which were encouraged and supported by his family members. He worked his way through school, for example, to establish a manufacturing plant. After graduation from the electric engineering course at the Heald Institute of Technology in San Francisco, he started a new career in engine design.

In 1911, Gorham and his father established a new company called "Gorham Engineering" where they started the business of manufacturing. The product lines included various types of engines (including semi-diesel engines), motorboats and large-size fire fighting pumps.

In 1916, Gorham succeeded in the development of a water-cooled, 6-cylinder, 150-horsepower aircraft engine.

In 1918, during World War I, Gorham, accompanied by his wife and children, came to Japan with a view to create an aviation industry in Japan. He operated mail flights between Tokyo and Osaka, but it was too early for the build-up of an aviation industry in Japan.

In 1919, Gorham worked as an engineering manager with a newly established automobile manufacturing company, Jitsuyo-Jidosha-Seizou (now Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.) in Osaka, Japan. He developed a three-wheeled vehicle called "Gorham Type Sanrinsha."

In 1921, Gorham was head-hunted by Ayukawa Yoshisuke. At a castings manufacturing company, Tobata Castings Co., Ltd., he worked as an engineering manager in charge of machine design and production engineering. He was engaged in the manufacture of engines for use in fishery and agriculture.

In 1926, Gorham was transferred as a chief engineer to a subsidiary company, Toa-Seiki, of Tobata Castings. He was engaged in the automatization of telephone switching machines and the improvement of such products as motors, drills, grinders, and air hammers.

In 1931, Gorham was transferred back to the parent company, Tobata Castings, where he was engaged in the improvement and mass production of casting components for motor vehicles. These components were supplied to Ford Japan and General Motors Japan.

In 1933, Gorham was assigned to the Automobile Division of Tobata Castings. A business plan for mass production of compact cars called "DATSUN" required the purchasing of US-made equipment and machinery, and the employing of American engineers. For that purpose, he temporarily returned to the United States, where he received technical training at a Ford factory.
During his temporary stay in the United States, he purchased a production line system and machinery, which had been used at a then-closed automobile factory of Graham Page. After then, under the supervision and direction of Gorham, the production line system was reassembled and reinstalled at Nissan Motor's automobile factory in Yokohama, Japan. This led to a production start of DATSUN compact cars.

In 1934, after completion of a new factory, Gorham was transferred to another company, Nihon Sangyo, where he was assigned to the head office's Engineering Division.

In 1935, Gorham took charge of the construction of a new factory and the design of production process for another company, Kokusan-Kogyo-Toa-Denki-Seisakusho. He started to fabricate precision machine tools.

In 1936, Gorham established a precision-machine manufacturing company, Kokusan-Seiki, and assumed the office of managing director. He gave technical guidance to employees at all stages from design to manufacture, thus producing ram-type turret lathes (Model 4T). Since then, a ram-type turret lathe grew into a long-term best seller among other product lines.

Afterwards, Gorham's company was merged with and into a subsidiary company of Hitachi, Ltd. The surviving corporation was later merged with and into several other companies, and its business name was finally renamed Hitachi Seiki Co., Ltd.

In 1941, at the outbreak of War in Pacific, Gorham renounced his US citizenship to become a naturalized Japanese citizen by reason of a deportation order for foreign residents in Japan. His full name was changed to a new Japanese name: "Gorham Katsundo". During the Pacific War, he was engaged in the development of multicut lathes and jet engines for Hitachi, Ltd.

In 1945, after the end of World War II, Gorham was reappointed director of Nissan Motor. He devoted his energy to resume automobile production. He was then promoted to managing director.

In 1947, Gorham acted as a consultant to Nissan Motor.

In 1948, Gorham assumed the office of vice president of Fuji Motors Corporation, a company that had entered into contract with the 8th U.S. Army at that time.

In the meantime, Gorham established a new company, Gorham Engineering Co., Ltd. and assumed the office of president. He gave technical guidance to Japanese engineers and promoted the use of mass production methods.

Gorham died on October 24, 1949. He and his wife were buried at the Tama Graveyard in Tokyo.

Gorham was an engineer who devoted himself to the pre-war and post-war developments of both the machine tools and automobile industries in Japan. He also made outstanding achievements in the entire machinery industry in Japan.
Gorham was a multi-skilled engineer who could handle all aspects of technical matters. His talent ranged from the introduction and implementation of a wide range of production techniques and production control systems to the design and development of products.

After World War II, a total of 26 factories requested of Gorham Engineering Co., Ltd. for technical assistance.

Tokyo Neji SeisakushoNihon Barubu Seizou Co.Riken Kashiwazaki Factory
Jidousha Buhin Seizou Co.Toyota Jidousha Kougyou Co.Nihon Pisuton-ringu Co.
Daido Metaru Kougyou Co.Yuasa Chikudenchi Co.to Kinzoku Co.
Naigai Seikou-sho Co.Nihon kikaki seisaku-shoIshikawajima Sangyou Co.
Riken pisuton-ringu Co.Izumi Jidousha Co.Kayaba Kougyou Co.
Nihon Hatsujo Co.Sankou Kenzai Kougou Co.Kanto Denki Jidousha Co.
Furukawa Denki Kougyou Co.Canon Camera Co.Akebono Sangyou Co.
Yazaki Densen Kougyou Co.Toukyu Yokohama Seisaku-shoNihon Oiru-ponpu Seizou Co.
Yamamoto Koujou Co.Toukyo Kougaku Co.

other few factories.

The companies that received technical guidance numbered six.

Nihon Taiya Co.Takashimaya Iida Co.Aoi Jidousha Co.
Meiji Sangyou Co.Kyouwa Koueki Co.Sankou Bussan Co.

In this respect, the Japanese people placed expectations on the post-war restoration of a machinery industry, while Gorham devoted all his energies to meeting these expectations.

Throughout his life, Gorham coached Japanese engineers in the area of modern production techniques.


  1. Hitachi seiki Co., WILLIAM R GORHAMU (Biography byJapanese-1951). 2nd-print 1962.
  3. SHIMOKAZE kenji, DATSUN WO TSUKUTTA-HITOBITO, Pictorial History of Pre-w Datsun, CAR GRAPHIC,1995.
  4. YAMASHITA mitsuru, KOUSAKUKIKAI NO SHOKUBA-SHI 1889-1945,Wasedadaigak Press,2002.
  5. NAGAO katsuko, KOUSAKUKIKAI-GIJYUTSU NO HENSEN,Nikkan Kougyou Shinbunsha,2002