Born as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. in 1920, Mazda started out as a machine-tool manufacturing plant but quickly turned to making vehicles. The first Mazda car, called the Mazda-Go, a three-wheeled truck appeared in 1931, which a year later began exporting to China. This was the only car that was in production until the Second World War broke out when Mazda factories began making rifles.
After the war, part of the Mazda plant served as the Hiroshima prefecture for a short while. Production and export resumed in 1949 with the same 3-wheeled truck. The first 4-wheel truck was the Mazda Romper, introduced in 1958.
The first pasenger car came in 1960, the Mazda R360 Coupe. Mazda's first partnership with a foreign company was the one in 1961 with NSU/Wankel with which it produced and developed rotary engines. This was done in order to differentiate Mazda from the other Japanese companies. To this day, Mazda is the only manufacturer of Wankel rotary engines as the other companies (NSU and Citroen) gave up on the design sometime during the 70s.
Mazda's paid off because its models quickly gained a name as being powerful yet light vehicles. The most successful series for Mazda were going to be the R100 and the RX models which eventually led to the company's development.
Starting with 1970 Mazda began eyeing the biggest market for its cars, the United States. It opened up a North American branch under the name Mazda North American Operations and it proved to have the winning recipe. In fact, Mazda models were so successful that the company even produced a pick-up truck based on the rotary engine.
With 1973 and the oil crisis, the thirsty rotary engines that Mazda used caused a drop in sales but the Japanese company hadn't really given up on piston engines so it was able to use a 4 cylinder model on its cars. The smaller Familia series and Capella were born.
But Mazda wasn't about to give up on its sporty cars and it decided to develop a parallel plant that would produce cars outside the mainstream. In 1978, they came up with the very sporty RX7 and later with the RX8. The piston engine also showed up on Mazda's line up with the MX-5 or Miata.