Nintendo’s first act didn’t involve video games

Nintendo started out selling card games, not video games.

Long before video games, Nintendo dealt in cards. Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai in 1889 to sell handmade hanafuda (“flower cards”). These traditional Japanese playing cards come in decks of 48, featuring 12 month suits.

A magnifying glass hovers over the Nintendo logo against a purple background.

Yamauchi’s grandson took over the company in 1949, and explored a variety of products and services — including taxis and “love hotels” — before Nintendo produced its first video game console in 1977. In the 1980s, Nintendo found success with its own game characters — Donkey Kong and, of course, Mario.

Mario is named after Mario Segale, the landlord of Nintendo of America’s Seattle warehouse. Segale, who passed away in 2018, never had much to say about being the namesake of the gaming industry’s most enduring character, save a quip in 1993: “You might say I’m still waiting for my royalty checks.”

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