Ole Kirk Christiansen
Ole (pronounced OH-lay) Kirk Christiansen was born on April 7, 1891, in the small village of Filskov, Denmark. At the time, only three hundred people lived in Ole’s village, most of whom were farmers.
Life was hard for the Christiansen family. His parents, Jens Niels and Kirstine Christiansen, had ten children to care for, and Ole was the youngest. They had only enough money to provide the necessities—food, clothing, shelter, and schooling.
At the young age of seven, Ole went to work on a nearby farm to help earn money for his family. When he wasn’t working or attending school, Ole enjoyed making things out of wood, and over time, he became quite good at it.
When Ole was fourteen, he worked for his older brother, Kristian, as an apprentice carpenter. Ole trained for six years, from 1905 to 1911. After his apprenticeship was over, he spent the next five years serving in the military, studying at the Haslev Technical School, and working as a carpenter in both Germany and Norway. During that time, Ole also met a woman named Kirstine and they fell in love.
In 1916, Ole and Kirstine returned home to Denmark and were married. They moved to a small town called Billund, which had only a handful of farms, a grocery store, a dairy, a blacksmith, one inn, and a school. There, he bought the Billund Carpentry Shop and Lumberyard for ten thousand Danish kroner (or approximately sixteen hundred dollars).
Ole was a very skilled carpenter, and took great pride in the craftsmanship of his work. He hired a handful of carpenters, and together they built doors, cabinets, and cupboards, as well as entire houses, stables, dairies, and churches for the local townspeople.
The Billund Carpentry Shop and Lumberyard had a house attached to the back, where Ole and Kirstine lived. They had four sons—Johannes (born in 1917), Karl (born in 1919), Godtfred (born in 1920), and Gerhardt (born in 1926).
Ole was a wonderful father and loved children. He was involved in his church and its Sunday school. He helped with the church’s scouting program for boys and girls. And he taught children at the local Handicrafts School. When Ole needed inspiration or quiet, he spent time gardening and beekeeping.
THE FIRST FIRE
One Sunday afternoon in 1924, five-year-old Karl and four-year-old Godtfred were playing in Ole’s workshop. While trying to light a hot glue machine, the young boys accidentally set fire to some wood shavings. The fire grew from a small flame to a raging blaze that engulfed the entire factory and house, burning them to ashes.
Despite the property loss, Ole was relieved that no one was injured. He remained calm, kept a positive outlook, and took this opportunity to rebuild his workshop. Ole hired an architect named Jesper Jespesen, who designed a new factory that was even larger and grander than the first.
The year 1930 marked the start of a difficult time for Ole. By then, the Great Depression had reached Denmark and deeply affected Ole’s carpentry business. Farmers and villagers could no longer afford his products and services. Ole resorted to making less expensive items such as ladders, stools, and ironing boards. But even with these new pieces, he did not earn enough money to be able to pay his employees their salaries, and he was forced to have layoffs.
Then, just two years later, tragedy struck. In 1932, Kirstine died suddenly. Ole was not only devastated by the unexpected passing of his loving wife, but was also concerned about raising his four boys, ages six to fifteen, all by himself.