Seventy-five years ago this week, a Swedish teenager named Ingvar Kamprad founded his first company by selling replicas of his uncle’s kitchen table and smaller items, like pencils and pipes. He decided to call the company IKEA : an acronym that incorporated the first letters of his own name and the name of where he grew up (his family farm, Elmtaryd, near the village of Agunnaryd).
Since then, IKEA has become a household name in interior design across the world, known for its minimalist, affordable furniture.
To catalog and celebrate this history, IKEA debuted a museum in 2016 in Älmhult, Sweden. It features 20,000 items from the company’s history, the museum’s creative director, Cia Eriksson, told Business Insider. What IKEA couldn’t find from its own collection, it bought from flea markets and online auctions.
Let’s take a look at IKEA’s evolution.
When 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943, Sweden was in the middle of an economic downturn, Eriksson said.
Kamprad grew up poor on a farm near the village of Agunnaryd, so he “needed to make use of everything he had.”
This thrifty mindset informed the vision for IKEA: to sell sold low-priced, simple products for the masses.
Kamprad died in January 2018.
In the beginning, IKEA didn’t just make furniture. It also sold small items like pencils, pipes, and postcards through mail-order catalogs.
In the 1950s, IKEA’s female employees wore the wool ensemble pictured below.
Traveling door-to-door, they carried binders to take down customer orders.
Kamprad published IKEA’s first home catalog and started designing furniture in 1951.
Flat packaging and customer-assembly existed from the beginning, which has kept shipping costs down for Ikea.
The new museum is located in Älmhult, Sweden, inside the same warehouse where Kamprad launched IKEA’s first physical retail store in 1958.
In the 1960s, IKEA discovered that it could make tables more affordable by producing them from particle board, a material made from wood chips.