The company was founded as Asahi Kogaku Goshi Kaisha in November 1919 by Kumao Kajiwara, at a shop in the Toshima suburb of Tokyo, and began producing spectacle lenses (which it still manufactures). In 1938 it changed its name to Asahi Optical Co., Ltd. (旭光学工業株式会社 Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-gaisha),
and by this time it was also manufacturing camera/cine lenses. In the
lead-up to World War II, Asahi Optical devoted much of its time to
fulfilling military contracts for optical instruments. At the end of the
war Asahi Optical was disbanded by the occupying powers, being allowed
to re-form in 1948. The company resumed its pre-war activities,
manufacturing binoculars and consumer camera lenses for Konishiroku and
Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō (later Konica and Minolta respectively).
Early 1950s to 2007
The period around 1950 marked the return of the Japanese photographic
industry to the vigorous level of the late 1930s, and its emergence as a
major exporter. The newly reborn industry had sold many of its cameras
to the occupation forces (having had far more disposable income than the
Japanese) and they were well received. The Korean War saw a huge influx of journalists and photographers to the Far East, where they were impressed by lenses from companies such as Nikon and Canon
for their Leica rangefinder cameras, and also by bodies by these and
other companies to supplement and replace the Leica and Contax cameras
they were using.
In 1952 Asahi Optical introduced its first camera, the Asahiflex (the first Japanese SLR using 35mm film). The name "Pentax" was originally a registered trademark of the East German VEB Zeiss Ikon (from "Pentaprism" and "Contax")
but, as all Germans patents were annulled with the country's defeat,
the name "Pentax" was taken by the Asahi Optical company in 1957. Since
then the company has been primarily known for its photographic products,
distributed under the name "Asahi Pentax" (equipment was imported to
the United States from the 1950s until the mid-1970s by Honeywell
Corporation and branded "Honeywell Pentax"). The company was renamed
Pentax Corporation in 2002. It was one of the world's largest optical
companies, producing still cameras, binoculars, spectacle lenses, and a variety of other optical instruments. In 2004 Pentax had about 6000 employees.
Merger with Hoya
In December 2006, Pentax started the process of merging with Hoya Corporation to form 'Hoya Pentax HD Corporation'.
Hoya's primary goal was to strengthen its medical-related business by
taking advantage of Pentax's technologies and expertise in the field of
endoscopes, intraocular lenses, surgical loupes, biocompatible ceramics,
etc. It was speculated that Pentax's camera business could be sold off
after the merger. A stock swap was to be completed by October 1, 2007
but the process was called off on April 11, 2007. Pentax president Fumio
Urano resigned over the matter, with Takashi Watanuki taking over as
president of Pentax.
However, despite Watanuki's previously stated opposition to a Hoya
merger, on May 16 it was reported that Pentax had accepted "with
conditions" a sweetened offer from Hoya, according to a source familiar
with the matter. Pentax was under increasing pressure from its major shareholders, Sparx Asset Management in particular, to accept Hoya's bid.
On August 6, 2007, Hoya completed a friendly public tender offer for Pentax and acquired 90.59% of the company.
On August 14, 2007, the company became a consolidated subsidiary of
Hoya. On October 29, 2007, Hoya and Pentax announced that Pentax would
merge with and into Hoya effective on March 31, 2008.
Hoya closed the Pentax-owned factory in Tokyo, and moved most of their
operations to Southeast Asia. All professional (DA*) and consumer (DA,
D-FA) lenses are produced in Vietnam, whereas DSLR cameras are produced in Philippines.
Ricoh Imaging Company
Japanese optical glass-maker Hoya Corporation stated on July 1, 2011, that it would sell its Pentax camera business to copier and printer maker Ricoh, in a deal the Nikkei business daily reported was worth about 10 billion yen ($124.2 million).
On July 29, 2011, Hoya transferred its Pentax imaging systems business
to a newly established subsidiary called Pentax Imaging Corporation. On
October 1, 2011, Ricoh acquired all shares of Pentax Imaging Corp. and
renamed the new subsidiary Pentax Ricoh Imaging Company, Ltd.
Hoya will continue to use the Pentax brand name for their medical
related products such as endoscopes. On August 1, 2013, the company name
was changed to Ricoh Imaging Company Ltd.