Above: Ingvar Kamprad in front of his first IKEA store, located in Älmhult, Sweden.
ON THIS DATE in 1943, seventeen-year-old Ingvar Kamprad registered the name IKEA. The Swedish youth started out peddling wallets, watches, and other small items, with IKEA gradually emerging as the world’s largest furniture retailer. The key was an innovation that allowed the company to efficiently ship unassembled chairs, tables, and other products. By 2003, the founder of a one-man business had become the richest man in the world, according to Reuters, but Kamprad’s admitted involvement with pro-Nazi groups in the 1940s caused some to question his legacy.
Kamprad created the IKEA name by combining the I and K in his initials with the E for Elmtaryd, his family’s farm, and the A for Agunnaryd, a nearby village. His small-time business grew after he added furniture to his product line and he saw a great surge in sales when he began using “flat packs” to ship his wares in the 1950s. The flat packs resulted in furniture that could be broken down, shipped at low cost, and re-assembled by customers.
Strictly a mail-order business through most of the 1950s, IKEA opened its first store in Sweden in 1958 and its first store in Norway five years later. By 2011, there were 332 IKEA stores in 38 countries.
In 1994 Kamprad was linked to involvement with pro-Nazi groups in the mid-1940s. The furniture magnate called his Nazi activities “a part of my life which I bitterly regret.”