The comapany was founded in 1919 by Kumao Kajiwara for the purpose of manufacturing eyeglass lenses. The word Asahi means "Rising Sun" and was apparently named to give the company new hope.
In 1938 the name of the company was changed from Asahi Optical Joint Stock Company to Asahi Optical Company, Ltd. (AOC) and was contracted by the Japanese government to optical parts for planes, tanks, machine guns, and binoculars.
Following the end of World War II AOC introduced the first Japanese 35mm single-lens reflex camera (SLR) called the Asahiflex I in 1951.
Six years later in 1957 the first Asahi Pentax was introduced. The name Pentax was derived from "penta-prism" and Asahiflex.
Today, the AOC is a major manfacturer of quality cameras, but a low budget price.
- The first Japanese SLR (Asahiflex, 1952)
- The world's first instant return mirror system (Asahiflex II, 1954)
- The first time a pentaprism has been utilized in the viewfinder of a single lens reflex (SLR) camera (Asahi Pentax, 1957)
- The world's first through-the-lens (TTL) metering system (Spotmatic, 1964)
- Asahi is the first camera manufacturer to produce one million SLRs (after only in 14 years of manufacturing -- world record, 1966)
- The world's first SLR camera with a TTL automatic-exposure control (Pentax ES, 1971)
- The world's first Super Multi-Coated lenses (Takumar lens series, 1971)
- The smallest and lightest SLR camera (Pentax MX and ME 1976)
- The world's first and only 110 pocket SLR with interchangeable lenses (System 10, 1978)
- The world's first camera to incorporate the concept of push-button shutter speed control (ME Super, 1979)
- The world's first through-the-lens autofocus camera (Pentax ME-F, 1980)
- The first camera manufacturer to reach the production milestone of 10 million SLR cameras (Asahi Optical, 1981)
- The world's first non-SLR camera to incorporate the DX film sensing system (Super Sport 35, 1984)
- The world's first mutli-mode medium format camera (Pentax 645, 1984)
- The world's first fully automatic 35mm compact camera with a built-in zoom lens (IQZoom, 1986)
- The first 35mm SLR camera to feature a built-in TTL auto flash (SF-1, 1987)
- The world's biggest zoom ratio in a zoom camera (IQZoom 900, 1989)
- The first weather-resistant (JIS Class 5) zoom compact for general use (IQZoom 90WR, 1991)
- The world's smallest and lightest camera (Espio, 1992)
- The world's smallest and lightest 3x zoom compact camera (IQZoom 115, 1993)
- The smallest and lightest 3x zoom compact (IQZoom 115, 1993)
- The world's thinnest zoom compact camera (IQZoom 835, 1994)
- The world's smallest and lightest zoom compact with a range up to 140mm (IQZoom 140, 1994)
- The world's first 35mm compact camera with zoom lens out to 160mm (IQZoom 160, 1996)
- The world's smallest and lightest compact zoom camera with a 3x zoom ratio (IQZoom 115M, 1996)
- The world's first autofocus medium format SLR (645N, 1997)
- The world's first 35mm compact camera with zoom lens out to 200mm (IQZoom 200, 1998)
Update: I found a owner's manual online! If you also have a Super ME without a owner's manual, you can get it here: http://www.frognet.net/~mcfadden/me-s_man.htm