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Ivar Kreuger (March 2, 1880 - March 12, 1932) was a Swedishmarker civil engineer, financier, entrepreneur and industrialist. In 1908 Kreuger co-founded the construction company Kreuger & Toll Byggnads AB which specialized in new building techniques. By aggressive investments and innovative financial instruments he built a global match and financial empire. Between the two world wars, he negotiated match monopolies with European and Central and South American governments, and finally controlled two thirds of the worldwide match production, and became known as the "Match King". Kreuger's financial empire, described by some as a Ponzi scheme, based on the supposedly fantastic profitability of Kreuger's match monopolies, collapsed during the Great Depression, and in March 1932, he shot himself dead.


Ivar Kreuger as a graduate at the age of 16.
Photo: June 1896.
Kreuger was born in Kalmarmarker, the eldest son of an industrialist in the match industry in Kalmar, Ernst August Kreuger (1852-1946) and his wife Jenny Emelie Kreuger (1856-1949) (nee Forssman). He had five siblings: Ingrid (born 1877), Helga (born 1878), Torsten (born 1884), Greta (born 1889) and Britta (born 1891). The Kreuger family owned several match factories in the Kalmar area. At school, Ivar skipped ahead two classes by taking private lessons, graduating at age 16. He continued his studies at the Royal Institute of Technologymarker in Stockholmmarker, where he graduated with combined master's degrees covering both the faculties of mechanical and civil engineering, at the age of 20.

The early years in America

After the turn of the century Kreuger spent seven years traveling and working abroad as an engineer in the USA, Mexico, South Africa and other countries, but spent most of the time in America. In South Africa he ran a restaurant for a short time together with his friend Anders Jordahl, but they soon sold the restaurant. At an early stage he came in contact with the patented Julius Kahn system for concrete-steel constructions that was exploited by the company Trussed Concrete Steel Co., when working for different engineering companies, among them The Consolidated Engineering & Construction Co. and Purdy & Henderson in New York. This new technique had not been introduced in Sweden at that time. In 1907 he managed to get the representative rights for the system for both the Swedish and the German markets, and at the end of 1907 he returned to Sweden with the goal of introducing the new methods in both countries at the same time. At that time one of the experts in Sweden in concrete-steel constructions was his cousin Henrik Kreüger working at KTHmarker in Stockholm.

The building contractor

In May 1908, Kreuger formed the construction firm Kreuger & Toll in Sweden with the engineer Paul Toll, at that time working for the construction company Kasper Höglund AB, and his cousin Henrik Kreüger, working at the faculty of civil engineering at KTHmarker, as a consulting engineer for the company. In Germany, he formed the company Deutsche Kahneisengesellschaft together with a colleague from his time in America, Anders Jordahl.

The new way of constructing buildings was not fully accepted in Sweden at that time and in order to market the new technique, Kreuger held several lectures and wrote an illustrated article on the subject in a leading engineering magazine, Teknisk Tidskrift.

The new way of constructing buildings soon became a success and the firm won several prestigious contracts, such as the construction of the Stockholm Olympic Stadiummarker (1911-12); the foundation work for the new Stockholm City Hallmarker (1912-13) and the department store NKmarker (1913-14) in Stockholm. The chief engineer behind these advanced projects was Henrik Kreüger.

After some years, when Ivar got involved in his father's match factories in Kalmar, he became more focused on “constructing” new companies and corporations, rather than buildings and bridges. As a result of that, in 1917, Kreuger & Toll was split up into two separate companies: Kreuger & Toll Construction AB, with the majority of shares owned by Paul Toll; and Kreuger & Toll Holding AB, with Ivar Kreuger as the general manager and major share holder. At the same time, Kreuger formed Swedish Match. Ivar Kreuger was not among the board members in the construction company. Paul Toll, however, was a board member in Kreuger & Toll Holding from the start, working as a coordinator for the construction projects that Hufvudstaden AB (a real estate company founded by Ivar Kreuger in 1915) was working with. How much of Paul Toll's company Ivar Kreuger owned has not been revealed, just that Paul Toll owned 60% in 1917 and 66% in around 1930 of the new established construction company. Kreuger & Toll Construction Co. has never showed up in any Kreuger & Toll Holding organisation charts.

The Swedish banker Oscar Rydbeck (1878-1951) became a close associate and an important teacher for Ivar in the financing business. He worked for Kreuger & Toll as a consultant from around 1912 until the Kreuger Crash in 1932.

The match business

Oscar Rydbeck, Ivar Kreuger's banker.
Photo: around 1930.
In 1911-12 the Kreuger family match factories in Kalmarmarker, Fredriksdalmarker and Mönsteråsmarker run by his father Ernst Kreuger, uncle Fredik Kreuger and his brother Torsten Kreuger, encountered financial problems. Kreuger was then advised by his banker Oscar Rydbeck to turn the factories into a stock corporation in order to raise more capital. This was the starting point for the reformation of the entire Swedish match industry as well as the major match companies in Norwaymarker and Finlandmarker.

With the family match factories as the base, Kreuger first founded the Swedish corporation AB Kalmar-Mönsterås Tändsticksfabrik in 1912. His father, Ernst, and uncle Fredrik, became the major shareholders and his brother Torsten was appointed the general manager. Ivar became a member of the board.

A merger between this company with several other small match companies in Sweden, the company AB Svenska Förenade Tändsticksfabriker was founded in 1913 with Ivar Kreuger as the general manager. Later, by merging with the largest match company in Sweden, AB Jönköping-Vulcan, Svenska Tändsticks AB (Swedish Match) was founded in 1917. Ivar had originally tried to convince AB Jönköping-Vulcan to merge in december 1912, but they had not been interested as Vulcan was the dominating match company in Sweden. Ivar then started to acquire all of the match companies as well as most of the raw material companies he could find in and around Sweden and then finally forced AB Jönköping-Vulcan to accept the merger by raising a large amount of capital through investment companies and two of the largest banks at that time, Handelsbanken and Skandinaviska Banken. One of the main designers behind this operation, beside Ivar, was his banker Oscar Rydbeck (1878-1951). The total number of shares in the new company was 450,000. Ivar Kreuger personally owned 223,000 shares and his new holding company, Kreuger & Toll Holding AB, 60,000.

This company group now covered the entire match industry in Sweden, including all the major companies that manufactured the production machines that were used in the factories. The total number of employees working with match production in Sweden in 1917 was around 9000. It also had control over major companies supplying the raw material for the match industry. During this time Kreuger also acquired the largest match manufacturing companies in Norway (Bryn and Haldenmarker) and in Finland (Wiborgs and Kekkola).

However, Kreuger did not only "acquire" companies but also introduced a new way of thinking in the match industry with large scale production facilities; new ideas to increase efficiency in both production, administration, and distribution; and in the sales organisation. This was the starting point for the large international corporations that have since become the norm in the industrial world.

In nine years, from 1908 to 1917, he had managed to establish a new large construction company as well as founding a united Swedish match industry, including the major match companies in Norway and Finland. With this new company structure the match industry in Scandinavia became a major competitor to large manufacturers elsewhere.

By expanding the Swedish Match company through acquisition of government-created monopolies, the Swedish company became the world's largest match manufacturer. Kreuger set up an affiliate to Kreuger & Toll AB in the United Statesmarker, and together with Lee, Higginson & Co. in New York, formed the International Match Corporation. This group eventually came to control almost 75% of the world production in matches.

Other business

From 1925-1930, years when many countries in Europe were suffering after the First World War, Kreuger's companies gave loans to governments to speed up reconstruction. As a security, the governments would grant his empire the match monopoly in their country. In return, Kreuger gained a monopoly in match production, sales or distribution or a complete monopoly. The monopoly agreements differed from country to country. To what extent the governments in both Sweden and the USA were behind the deals is not clear. The capital was raised to a large extent as direct loans by Kreuger, spread out in both Swedish and American banks, combined with issuing a large amount of participating debentures.

Kreuger did not limit himself to matches, but gained control of most of the forestry industry in northern Sweden and planned to become head of a cellulose cartel.

After founding the pulp manufacturer SCA, in 1929 Kreuger was able to acquire the majority shares in the telephone company Ericsson; the mining company Bolidenmarker (gold); major interests in the ball bearing manufacturer SKF; the bank Skandinaviska Kreditaktiebolaget and others.

Abroad he acquired Deutsche Unionsbank in Germanymarker and Union de Banques à Paris in Francemarker, often with the acquired company's own money. These maneuvers were made both necessary and possible by his invention, decades ahead of his time, of Enron-style financial engineering, which reported profits when there were none and paid out ever increasing dividends by attracting new investment and/or looting the treasury of a newly acquired company.

By 1931 an estimated 200 companies were controlled by Kreuger. However, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 turned out to be a major factor in exposing his accounting that ultimately proved fatal to both Kreuger and his empire.

In the spring of 1930 he visited America and held a lecture about the situation in world economics at the Industrial Club of Chicago with the title "The transfer problem and its importance to the United States". He was invited by President Hoover to the White Housemarker to discuss the subject and in June he was awarded the title Doctor of Business Administration at the Syracuse Universitymarker, where he had worked as a young chief engineer when a stadium was built there in 1907.

In 1929, at the peak of his career, the Kreuger fortune was thought to be worth 30bn Swedish kronor, equivalent to approximately US$100bn USD in 2000, comprising more than 200 companies. In the same year the total loans made by Swedish banks were barely 4bn SEK.

Main companies controlled by Ivar Kreuger c.1930

Kreuger group loans to foreign states from 1925-1930

The total loans by Kreuger to foreign states has been estimated to US$387m in 1930, corresponding to $35bn in 1998 currency.

(note: $ refer to US$)

  • Poland I, 1925: $6m and Polen II, 1930: $32.4m
  • Free State Danzig, 1930: $1m
  • Greece I, 1926: GB£1m and Greece II, 1931: £1m
  • Ecuador I, 1927: $2m and Ecuador II, 1929: $1m
  • France, 1927: $75m
  • Yugoslavia, 1928: $22m
  • Hungary, 1928: $36m
  • Germany, 1929: $125m
  • Latvia, 1928: $6m
  • Romania, 1930: $30m
  • Lithuania, 1930: $6m
  • Bolivia, 1930: 2 $m
  • Estonia, 1928: SEK 7.6m
  • Guatemala, 1930; $2.5m
  • Turkey, 1930: $10m
  • Part of the "Young-loan" to Germany, 1930: US$15m

Kreuger planned to issue a loan of $75m to Italy in 1930 but the deal was never completed.

The end of the Kreuger empire

By mid 1931, rumours spread that Kreuger & Toll and other companies in Kreuger's empire were financially unstable. In February 1932, Kreuger turned to Sveriges Riksbankmarker for the second time in his life to support him in raising a large increase in his loans. At this time his total loans in Swedish banks was estimated to about half of the Swedish reserve currency that had started to give negative effects on the value of the Swedish currency in the international financial market. In order to grant him more loans, the government required that a complete statement of accounts of Kreugers entire company group was presented, as the bank's (Sveriges Riksbank) own calculations showed that Kreuger & Toll finances were far too weak to give him more loans.

At that time Ivar Kreuger was in the United States and was asked to return to Europe for a meeting with the chairman of the Riksbank, Ivar Rooth. He had left Sweden for the last time on November 29, 1931 and returned to Europe on the ship Ile de France, arriving in Paris on March 11, 1932. The meeting with Ivar Rooth was scheduled to take place on March 13 or 14 in Berlinmarker. He met with Krister Littorin (vice president of Kreuger & Toll holding) and his own banker Oscar Rydbeck in Paris on March 11 to prepare for the Berlin meeting. But on March 12, he was found dead in bed in his apartment at Avenue Victor Emanuel III. After questioning Kreuger's servants (his French maid mademoiselle Barrault and the janitor that had a contact with Kreuger in he morning) the French police and a physician came to the conclusion that he had shot himself some time between 10.45 a.m. and 12.10 p.m. A 9-mm semi-automatic gun was found on the bed beside the body.

He left a sealed envelope in the room, addressed to Krister Littorin, which contained three other sealed envelopes - one addressed to his sister Britta; one to Sune Scheéle; and one addressed to Littorin. In the letter to Littorin (for some reason written in English although Littorin was his closest Swedish colleague), he wrote:
I have made such a mess of things that I believe this to be the most satisfactory solution for everybody concerned. Please, take care of these two letters also see that two letters which were sent a couple of days ago by Jordahl to me at 5, Avenue Victor Emanuel are returned to Jordahl. The letters were sent by Majestic - Goodbye now and thanks. I K.

Ivar Kreuger was interred in Norra begravningsplatsenmarker in Stockholm.

The Kreuger Crash

Kreuger's death precipitated the Kreuger Crash which hit investors and companies worldwide, but particularly hard in the USA and Sweden. In 1933 and 1934, the U.S. Congress passed several security reform legislations that were meant to prevent a repeat of the Kreuger Crash. These bills were largely successful in their mission and the American financial industry did not witness frauds of the same magnitude until the Enron scandal and Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme which occurred after the regulations were relaxed in the 1990s.

A Foreign Affairs report from 1930 had judged that of the $630m worth of assets the company claimed to have, $200m came from the match business, $30m were in the bank, and the other $400m were merely categorized as "other investments." When the company finally went bankrupt at the end of March 1932, claimed assets of $250m turned out to be non-existent.

Prior to the crash, Kreuger had issued thousands of participating debentures. These were very popular, and a firm public belief in the rising Kreuger empire convinced contemporary Swedes to invest in these "Kreuger papers". Following the Kreuger crash, both the debentures and shares became worthless, and several thousand Swedes and small banks lost their savings and investments as a result. Large investors and suppliers apart from share holders, received a total of 43% back. The banks related to the Wallenberg family company group, Stenbeck company group and Handelsbanken took over most of the companies in the Kreuger empire. Swedish Match recovered, shortly after the crash as did most of the industrial companies within the Kreuger empire. Swedish Match received a large government guaranteed loan that was fully repaid after a couple of years. IMCO in USA however did not survive. The liquidation took nine years and was eventually finished in 1941.

Personal life

Ingeborg Eberth and Ivar Kreuger.
Photo from 1914.
Ivar Kreuger ready for take-off for a business trip in Europe with an early passenger plane.
Ivar Kreuger never married but lived for many years in different periods with Ingeborg Eberth (1889-1977), family name Hässler, born in Stockholm, working as a physical therapist in Stockholm.

They met the first time in 1913. According to the book she wrote in 1932 after Krueger's death, he was not interested in a marriage and having children, and very much focused in his business. She broke off the relation in 1917 and moved to Denmark, where she married a Danish engineer. They had a daughter in 1919, Grete Eberth, married name Mac Laury (1919-2002). After some years however, she divorced Eberth and moved back to Stockholm with her daughter and reunited with Kreuger. This new period lasted until around 1928, and after that they met occasionally. The last time they met was in November 1931, just before Kreuger started on his final trip to America. Eberth received the news about his death in Paris March 12, 1932 from the newspapers headlines the day after.

Kreuger had private apartments in Stockholm, New York, Paris and Warsaw, and a country place used during the summer season on the private island Ängsholmen in the archipelago of Stockholm. On business tours in Europe, he preferred to meet his business associates in Paris and then stayed in his flat at 5, Av. Victor Emanuel III (today named Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt).He owned several specially designed motor yachts, among them Elsa built in 1906, Loris (1913), Tärnan (1925) and the most famous, Svalan (Swallow), built at Lidingömarker in 1928, a 37 ft, 4.9 ton motor yacht, equipped with a V12, 31.9 liter Hispano-Suiza engine from the US company Wright, with 650 HP output, capable of more than 50 knots. A replica of the boat has been built.

He had a large private library in both his apartments in Stockholm and New York and quite a large art collection. The paintings were sold at different auctions that were held in September 1932, as all of Kreuger's private assets were incorporated into the bankruptcy. The collection in Stockholm comprised 88 original paintings, among them 19 by Anders Zorn and a great number by old masters from the Netherlands. The New York collection comprised original paintings by Rembrandt and Anthony van Dyck.

Kreuger became the major shareholder when the Swedish film company AB Svensk Filmindustri (SF) was founded in 1919 and because of that, sometimes met celebrities from the film industry. In June 1924, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were invited by SF to Stockholm and were guided around the Stockholm archipelago in Kreuger's motor yacht Loris. A 5 minute film sequence of this occasion is stored in SF's film archive. Pickford, Fairbanks, Kreuger, Charles Magnusson (the manager for SF), Greta Garbo and various SF employees appear in the film.

Murder allegations

Kreuger was called the "Swedish Match King" until 1932, and after his death "the prince of the first global finance state". Others have called him "the world's greatest swindler". After supposedly classified documents were made public in recent times, books have been published which support different views of Kreuger and the circumstances of his death: Därför mördades Ivar Kreuger ("Why Ivar Kreuger was murdered") (ISBN 91-7055-019-0) (1990), and Kreuger-Mordet: En utredning med nya fakta (translation: "The Kreuger-murder: An investigation with new facts") (ISBN 91-630-9780-X) (2000). Although his brother Torsten Kreuger wrote a book in the 1960s defending a murder theory, the consensus among historians is that Kreuger killed himself.

See also


  1. see in: The Incredible Ivar Kreuger by Allen Churchill (Weidenfeld, London; Rinehart & Co., New York; 1957)
  2. Ernst August Kreuger was appointed the title Russian vice consul in Kalmar, a title he inherited from his father Per Edward Kreuger.
  3. Remark: The M. Sc. degree around 1900 cannot be compared to the present demands. Today, two MSc. covering the full education program in both faculties in four years is impossible.
  4. Julius Kahn (1874–1942), civil engineer, inventor, formed the company Trussed Concrete Steel Co. together with his brother Albert Kahn, in 1903.
  5. In English, German Kahn-steel Company.
  6. Jordahl Befeistungstechnik website, Jordahl history (in German).
  7. Title (translated): "Experiences in concrete steel constructions in North America" by Ivar Kreuger in the magazine Teknisk Tidskrift, 1908. National Library of Sweden
  8. In english, "Swedish United Match Companies".
  9. Speech held May 15, 1930. National Library of Sweden
  10. Ericsson history, Ivar Kreuger becomes the major share holder.
  11. Lars-Erik Thunholm: Ivar Kreuger. Published by T. Fischer & Co., Stockholm 1995, chapter 11. (ISBN 9170547572)
  12. Named after the Young-plan lead by Owen D. Young. The Young-loan was designed to split up the loan on a large number of countries, in order to secure that Germany paid the War reparations from World War I.
  13. The loan to Italy has been referred to as the "Italian bonds" in the Kreuger litterature.
  14. Sune Scheéle was working for Kreuger 1919-1932. Between 1925-1930 he was a manager for the Kreuger business in India.
  15. Police report-Kreuger. National Archive, Stockholm.
  16. The other two letters to Sune Scheéle and his sister Britta have not been published.
  17. Ingeborg Eberth's parents were Otto Alfred Hässler (d. 1929), publisher married to Jenny Charlotta Hässler (d. 1937).
  18. Position WGS84:
  19. Drawing sketch Swallow
  20. Pampas Shipyard and Yacht Club, Stockholm
  21. Filmsequence with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks i Stockholm 1924. SVT-Play.
  22. Kreuger homepage.


  • Lars-Erik Thunholm: Ivar Kreuger. Published by T. Fischer & Co., Stockholm 1995. (ISBN 9170547572)
  • Lars-Erik Thunholm: Ivar Kreuger. The Match King. Translated into English by George Thiel., 2002. (ISBN 9170549583)
  • Lars-Erik Thunholm: Oscar Rydbeck och hans tid. Published by T. Fischer & Co., Stockholm 1991. (ISBN 9170546592)
  • Magnus Toll: Paul Toll 1882-1946, ingeniör-entreprenör. 1996. Private book.
  • Poul Bjerre: Kreuger, 1932. (The book Kreuger by Poul (Carl) Bjerre (1876-1964), covers the Kreuger family heritage from 1710, Ivar Kreugers childhood and the time until he returned to Sweden, around Christmas time 1907. A number of letters are published in the book.)
  • Allen Churchill: The Incredible Ivar Kreuger (Weidenfeld, London; Rinehart & Co., New York; 1957)

Further reading

  • Partnoy, Frank The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals, 2008.

External links

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