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Kenwood Founder Bill Kasuga Dies At 98

Long Beach, Calif. — Kenwood Electronics co-founder William Kasuga died July 5. He was 98.

Kasuga, known throughout the industry as Bill, was a member of the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame and was honored by the Consumer Electronics Association with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. He had stepped down as chairman of Kenwood USA in 1995.

Kasuga was born in the United States in 1915 but was sent to Japan by his father with his siblings when he was 3 after his mother died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. He returned to the U.S. at 16 to master English and finish high school.

He went on earn an economics degree at the University of San Francisco in 1941 but after the U.S. entered World War II, Kasuga was placed in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona in May 1942. To escape the conditions of the camp, he volunteered for the U.S. Army where, being fluent in English and Japanese, he taught language to intelligence personnel.

When the war ended, he stayed in the Army until 1958, marrying his wife Sadaye and raising two children, but he desired a civilian life as an entrepreneur.

“I got tired of teaching ABCs every day,” he told Investor’s Business Daily in 2001. “It didn’t have a future. I had to make a decision of what I liked. Since I studied economics, I had a business in mind all along — some sort of business all my own.” A friend told him about A&A Trading Corp., which imported Japanese audio equipment for RadioShack. A&A hired him as a sales manager, and he moved his family to New York City.

Three years later Kasuga struck out on his own, co-founding Kenwood Electronics with Mikasa dinnerware president George Aratani in 1961 as a distribution company for Japanese audio manufacturer Trio.

Aratani passed away in February at 95.

As for the company name, Kasuga knew he needed a solid American name to succeed. “The name was very difficult,” he said. “Japanese products were considered junk at the time. Most were junk, with the exception of the audio products I knew. Trio was making quality products.” He picked “Ken” because it’s both a Japanese and American name and it worked well for the popular Kenmore brand. He added “wood” because it was a hard substance and echoed Hollywood.

He gradually built Kenwood into a major consumer brand synonymous with quality home and car stereo systems. Trio eventually bought Kenwood Electronics from Kasuga and adopted the Kenwood brand name worldwide. The American company changed its name to Kenwood USA

In 1993, as the company enjoyed sales of more than $500 million and more than 300 employees, Kasuga was named chairman of Kenwood USA. He retired as chairman in 1995 but remained a trustee and advisor for many years.

Kenwood USA is responsible for bringing several groundbreaking products to market, including the first audio/video amplifier for home theater and the first anti-theft car cassette deck that could slide out of the dash.

Kasuga is survived by his wife and two children. — Compiled from news reports and TWICE staff reporting