The Kawasaki Company was founded in 1896 by Shozo Kawasaki as a shipyard meant for building oceangoing steel ships. At the beginning they constructed marine steam turbines, locomotives, freight cars, passenger carriages and bridge girders. In 1918 the Aircraft Department is established and after prolonged research Kawasaki succeeds in building Japan's first metal aircraft. Then came 1949 and they turned towards the motorcycles industry by making engines suited for motorcycles.
Kawasaki came out with their first bike in 1954, called Meihatsu. This bike had Kawasaki's own KB-5 engine and an improved model of the Meihatsu was introduced in 1956.
They called it Meihatsu 125 Deluxe but it wasn't until 1956 that the Kawasaki logo was stamped into the engine side cover.
A big part in the development of Kawasaki Motorcycles was played by Meguro Motorcycles, one of leading motorcycles manufacturing companies in Japan at that time. They had a good run for about 30 years, but finally Meguro was bought by Kawasaki, fact which strengthened a lot Kawasaki. So, as of 1962 Meguro disappeared and was never heard of since.
In 1960 Kawasaki made their own motorcycles manufacturing plant and six years later they came out with their most notable efforst so far, the 650cc W1 model. This wasn't a great success because the rival bikes were a lot faster at that time, but still a notable effort. Kawasaki then came out with lighter bikes the 250 cc A1 Samurai and the 350cc A7 Avenger, bikes which had their fair share of success.
But it wasn't until 1969 that Kawasaki started to be noticed as a big player on the motorcycles market. This was due to the release of the 500cc H1 model (also known as Mach III). Because of its success they released two smaller models derived from the H1, the 250cc S1 and the 350cc S2. For those who wanted more power, Kawasaki developed a 748cc version, the H2 (Mach IV) in 1972.
After this, came 1973 and Kawasaki introduced their first superbike, the Z1 which had a 903cc engine. It had a very good price and performance ratio so it became very popular. Three years later, the Japanese manufacturer improved the Z1 and turned it into a more powerful bike called Z900. The Z1000 followed shortly after and this model had even more power.
The “Z series" continued with Z1300 (1978), Z400FX (1979) and the first Japanese mass-produced belt-driven motorcycle, the KZ440LTD, made its way to the US market the same year. They used the same technology for two of their models for Japan, the Z250LTD and the Z400LTd, released in 1983.
In 1982, Kawasaki started to sell the Z400GP on the Japanese market and the Z1000R in America. One of the most notable bikes in Kawasaki history, the GPZ900R also came in 1983. This was the first model ever produced by Kawasaki to have a liquid-cooled engine and to reach 250 km/h. A year later they started to sell this bike in the US and they renamed it Ninja, thing which proved to be very benefactor, registering huge sales.
The ZZR-110, the fastest production bike for a period of five years, was launched in 1990. Judging by its capacity (1052cc) you can't be surprised. But it also had a strong frame and a decent suspension. In the 1990s, Kawasaki had a few notable models like the GPz1100 ABS (1996), the off-road Super Sherpa (1997).
To get back to earlier days, in 2000, the US sales of the Ninja ZX-12R started. This baby had 1200cc and a aluminum monocoque frame and a maximum output of 178 PS. Three years later, Kawasaki released three more models, the Ninja ZX-6R, Ninja ZX-6RR and a street bike model called Z1000.
Over the years, Kawasaki also did good in motorsports, thing which helped them sell their bikes. Their first ever motorsports victories were obtained by Dave Simmons in the FIM World Road Racing 125cc Championship. He won the West German and the Isle of Mann TT races and the series championship riding a KR-1. Then came 1981 and Kawasaki won the manufacturer's title in the FIM World Road Racing 250cc Championship, courtesy of A. Mang who was riding the KR250. Kawasaki's most notable win in their motorsports history was the Le mans 24-Hour Race back in 1983. The model which participated in that race was the ZXR-7.