Ikea is the world's largest furniture retailer, according to Forbes.
Known for its flat-packed furniture that can be self-assembled, the Sweden-based company operates 430 stores in more than 50 markets, many of which are home to food courts that serve a mixture of Swedish and local cuisine.
The story begins with a 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad. The year was 1943 and he was just rewarded with some money for excelling in school, which he used to start a business called Ikea.
Kamprad originally sold pens, wallets, picture frames, table runners, watches, and more. He got the name Ikea as an acronym of his first two initials (I and K), and the initials of the two areas where he grew up, Elmtaryd (E) and Agunnaryd (A).
Eventually, Ikea made the transition into furniture in 1948. The items were produced by local manufacturers from wood from local forests. People responded well to the furniture and the business continued to grow.
Ikea published its first furniture catalog in 1951 to reach more customers. The first catalog featured a wingback chair on the cover, considered to have been Kamprad’s favorite piece.
The Ikea Strandmon chair is considered the modern version of the wingback chair that was seen on the 1951 catalog cover — you can still buy iterations of it today.
Ikea opened its first showroom in 1953, which gave customers a chance to come and experience the furniture before buying it. The showroom was located in Älmhult, Sweden. Today, most Ikea stores have large showroom areas to test and feel the furniture.
By 1956, Ikea was designing furniture that could be flat-packed and self-assembled, a now-classic quality of Ikea items. The Lövet table was the first Ikea item that was flat-packed — this modern-day Lovbaken table below is a newer take on the original design.
It wasn't until October 28, 1958 that Ikea opened its first store in Älmhult, Sweden.
With 6,700 square meters of furnishings, the store was the largest furniture display in Scandinavia when it opened. At first, a lot of people had doubts about how successful a furniture store in a small village could be.
But it turned out that people wanted to travel near and far to see what Ikea had to offer. Ikea was more than a furniture store, but a place to take a day trip with the family, complete with a playroom for kids and eventually a restaurant.
Kamprad is quoted as once having said, "It’s difficult to do business with someone on an empty stomach." This was likely one of the reasons that the first Ikea restaurant opened in the Älmhult store in 1960.
Today, Ikea has food courts in many of its locations across the world. Though many serve staples from their own local cuisines, a lot of them still serve the classic Swedish meatballs.
By 1960, Ikea was expanding from the store in Älmhult. The company established smaller stores in Norway in 1963 and in Denmark in 1969.
The showrooms in the Älmhult store featured various furniture displays. This 1964 showroom included the Milan Sofa (right), the Björkö sofa and chair (left), and a betting table with casters (center).
Ikea later expanded outside of Scandinavia, opening one of the largest stores at the time in Stockholm, Sweden in 1965. Thousands of people lined up at the circular store on opening day.
As time went on Ikea introduced new designs and styles. This 1969 catalog featured a Rofe easy chair and Pop 68 table.
Ikea finally came to the US in 1985, with the opening of its first store on June 12 in Philadelphia.
Today, Ikea has come a long way from its humble beginnings, operating 430 stores in more than 50 markets.