Toyota Jidosha Kabushiki-gaisha or Toyota for short is actually the largest car maker in the entire world, bigger than Ford, GM and anyone else. Their history, like many other car producers, starts with some other product, in this case automatic looms. At some point, in 1933, Kiichiro Toyoda, son to Toyota's founder, decided he wanted to build cars and so he took a trip to Europe to get an idea about gas-powered engines.
The government encouraged such a bold decision mostly because making their own cars would be cheaper and they also needed vehicles for the war with China. Just a year after its foundation in 1933, the Toyota Motor Company created its first engine, the Type A, placed in the Model A1 passenger car and the G1 truck.
During WWII, Toyota was committed to making trucks for the army and only the premature ending of the conflict saved the company's factories in Aichi from a scheduled Allied bomb raid. After the war, Toyota resumed car making but found more success in building trucks and buses than with cars. Still, it didn't give up on cars for good and in 1947 it came up with the Model SA, also known as the Toyopet, a name which later was applied to other models as well.
A little more successful was the Model SF which also had a taxi version but the same 27 horsepower engine as its predecessor. A more powerful model, the RH, which had 48 HP, came out shortly after. Production went up rather fast and by 1955, Toyota was turning out 8400 cars a year. That year, Toyota diversified their production, adding the Jeep-like Land Cruiser and the luxury sedan, the Crown.
With numbers growing and with several models under their belt, Toyota now had its eyes set on the international market. The first dealership outside Japan was in America in 1957 and the first plant in Brazil in 1959. An interesting strategy from Toyota ensured that all models were somehow unique to the region where they were produced (they were adapted to the respective market).
The big break for Toyota on the American market came with the 70s when rising gas prices forced local producers to make smaller cars. These were thought of as entry-level and as a consequence lacked in quality of finishing. In contrast, Toyota already had several fuel-efficient models that were also of better quality. The Corolla is the best example in this sense, soon becoming America's favorite compact car.