Tanaka was born in Kurume, Chikugo province (present-day Fukuoka prefecture) as the eldest son of a tortoiseshell craftsman. Apprenticed at an early age, he was a gifted artisan. At the age of eight, he invented an inkstone case with a secret lock, which required a cord to be twisted in a certain manner to open it. At the age of 14, he had invented a loom capable of weaving intricate designs into fabric.
From age 20 he began to make karakuri dolls, autonomous dolls powered by springs, pneumatics and hydraulics, capable of relatively complex movements, which were much in demand by the aristocrats of Kyoto, daimyō in feudal domains, and by the Shōgun's court in Edo. At age 21, he was performing around the country at festivals with clockwork dolls he constructed himself.
He declined to take over the family business, surrendering his position to his younger brother and devoted his full attention to karakuri dolls. In 1834, he relocated to Osaka, where he experimented in pneumatics, hydraulics and forms of lighting based on rapeseed oil, including a pocket candlestick and an oil lamp with an air-pressurized fuel pump which proved to be very popular.
He then moved on to Kyoto, where he studied rangaku, or western learning, and astronomy. He invented a pneumatic fire pump, and in 1851, he built a myriad year clock which is now designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government.
With the development of the Sonnō jōi movement, the atmosphere in Kyoto became increasingly dangerous towards foreign influences and technology, and Tanaka was invited by Sano Tsunetami to Saga Domain in Kyūshū, where he was welcomed by Nabeshima Naomasa.
While in Saga, Tanaka designed and built Japan's first domestically made steam locomotive and steam warship. He was involved in the construction of a reverberatory furnace in Saga for the production of Armstrong guns. In 1864, he returned to his native Kurume Domain, where he assisted in the development of modern weaponry.
In 1873, six years after the Meiji Restoration, Tanaka, then age 74 and still energetic, was invited by the Ministry of Industry to come to Tokyo to make telegraphs at the ministry's small factory. He relocated to the Ginza district in 1875. He rented the second floor of a temple in what is now Roppongi as a workshop that evolved into his first company—Tanaka Seisakusho (Tanaka Engineering Works), the first manufacturer of telegraph equipment in Japan.
After his death in 1881, his son founded Tanaka Engineering Works (Tanaka Seizōsho). The company changed its name after Tanaka's death to Shibaura Engineering Works (Shibaura Seizōsho) in 1904. After a merger in 1939 with Tokyo Denki it became Tokyo Shibaura Denki, more commonly known today as Toshiba.
According to en.wikipedia