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Yamaha was established in 1887 as a piano and reed organ manufacturer by Torakusu Yamaha as Nippon Gakki Company, Limited (日本楽器製造株式会社 Nippon Gakki Seizō Kabushiki Kaisha?) (literally Japan Musical Instrument Manufacturing Corporation) in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture and was incorporated on October 12, 1897. The company's origins as a musical instrument manufacturer are still reflected today in the group's logo—a trio of interlocking tuning forks.

After World War II, company president Genichi Kawakami repurposed the remains of the company's war-time production machinery and the company's expertise in metallurgical technologies to the manufacture of motorcycles. The YA-1 (AKA Akatombo, the "Red Dragonfly"), of which 125 were built in the first year of production (1954), was named in honour of the founder. It was a 125cc, single cylinder, two-stroke, street bike patterned after the German DKW RT125 (which the British munitions firm, BSA, had also copied in the post-war era and manufactured as the Bantam and Harley-Davidson as the Hummer. In 1955,[5] the success of the YA-1 resulted in the founding of Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd.

Yamaha has grown to become the world's largest manufacturer of musical instruments (including pianos, "silent" pianos, drums, guitars, brass instruments, woodwinds, violins, violas, celli, and vibraphones), as well as a leading manufacturer of semiconductors, audio/visual, computer related products, sporting goods, home appliances, specialty metals and industrial robots.

In 1989, Yamaha shipped the world's first CD recorder.[chronology citation needed] Yamaha purchased Sequential Circuits in 1988.[7] It bought a majority stake (51%) of competitor Korg in 1987, which was bought out by Korg in 1993.

In 2002, Yamaha closed down its archery product business that was started in 1959. Six archers in five different Olympic Games won gold medals using their products.

It acquired German audio software manufacturers Steinberg in January 2005, from Pinnacle Systems.

In July, 2007, Yamaha bought out the minority shareholding of the Kemble family in Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK) Ltd, Yamaha's UK import and musical instrument and professional audio equipment sales arm, the company being renamed Yamaha Music U.K. Ltd in autumn 2007.[10] Kemble & Co. Ltd, the UK piano sales & manufacturing arm was unaffected.