Honda was founded by Soichiro Honday, a mechanic who developed his own idea for piston rings in 1938, after working at Art Shokai. He attempted to sell them to Toyota, who contracted with him. He built a facility to meet Toyota's demands, but it was almost completely destroyed during World War II.
With what he had left in the Japanese market, Soichiro Honda created a new company. Since his country had been decimated by the war, and was starved for both cash and fuel, but still needed basic, reliable transportation, he attached an engine to a bicycle. This would be the beginning of the "Honda Reasearch Institute Company, Ltd." While the official Japanese name remains with the company, what the rest of the world knows as the Honda Motor Company was officially founded on September 24, 1948.
Soichiro Honda quickly recovered from the losses incurred during the war by producing and selling a range of motorcycles and scooters. The American Honda Company was founded in 1958, and the first Honda motorcycle was introduced to the US market just a year later. By the 1970's Honda was the largest producer of motorcycles around, and it retains that title. It wasn't until 1963 that the first production vehicle from Honda that wasn't some kind of bike, was first offered in the Japanese market. It was the T360, a small pickup truck with four different body styles and a 30 hp engine. Two months later the first Honda automobile was released - the S500 two door roaster with a 44hp engine and a 4-speed transmission, and the rear wheels were chain-driven.
In 1972, with the introduction of the Civic, Honda finally established its presence in the American automobile market, partly because it was smaller than most American cars. Later, in 1975, the Civic gained popularity because it's engine could pass emissions tests without the addition of a catalytic converter or a smog pump, and it also offered better fuel efficiency. Later, in 1986, Honda became the first Japanese car maker to offer its own line of luxury vehicles. Marketed under the name Acura, these are sportier, more powerful redesigns of existing Honda cars. With the current pushes for safety and alternative fuel, Honda is already leading the way. It began selling the hybrid Insight in 1999, and now has hybrid models of its popular Civics and Accords. In addition, Honda was the first Japanese auto maker to include air bags, and it now has side-curtain airbags standard on most vehicles, and plans to add stability control features to its entire line by 2008.
Today, Honda's Civics and Accords, as well as the Odyssey, remain popular choices for American consumers.