Ivar Kreuger, the infamous “Match King,” is remembered as the most colorful and compelling business personality of the roaring 1920s. From 1929 to 1932, he was the most talked-about businessman in the world, for good reason. Wealthier than Morgan and as generous as Rockefeller, he miraculously survived the Great Crash, only to be found, one dark Paris morning, with a bullet through his heart. Opinions about Kreuger were deeply divided: hero or villain, innovator or fraudster, suicide or murder victim.
Known as the “Match King” because he held monopolies on the sale of matches in many countries, Kreuger’s financial empire extended to banking, construction, film, mining, paper, railways, and telephones. He was a statesman as well as a financier, and usurped Jack Morgan as the leading lender to Europe. He rescued France from bankruptcy, and nearly saved Germany. He charmed everyone, from President Hoover to Greta Garbo, to the journalists who put his boyish face on the covers of Time and The Saturday Evening Post. When asked to name his three rules for success in business, Kreuger advised “silence, more silence, and still more silence.”
Unfortunately, the silence killed, and by the end Kreuger’s shares were worth just pennies. Historians, including John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., labelled Kreuger the greatest fraud in history.
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