The History of Lego
Thanks to its universal appeal and the creative genius of the company’s founders and designers, Lego has become one of the world’s most popular children’s toys. Today, thousands of diferent Lego sets are available to buy in stores, ranging from traditional ‘block boxes’ to sophisticated licensed playsets based on successful cartoon and film franchise likes Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Toy Story, Batman and many more. Lego’s appeal even stretches to adults, many of whom have been playing with the little plastic bricks from a very young age.
The history of Lego began in 1932 when a Danish carpenter named Ole Kirk Kristiansen started a business in the town of Billund, making household goods and wooden toys. Two years later, in 1934, the business became known as ‘Lego’, deriving from Danish words “LEg GOdt”, meaning “play well”. By sheer coincidence, the term also means “I put together in Latin”. The business grows slowly throughout the 1930s until the German occupation of Denmark in 1940. During the war, the Lego factory burned down but the production of toys quickly started up again and the company grew despite the ongoing conflict.
In 1947, Lego became the first company in Denmark to buy a plastic injection-moulding machine to make toys, opening the way to the way for huge advancements in toy production. In 1949, the company launched its Automatic Binding Brick, studded interlocking bricks that were the direct predecessor of the modern Lego brick. After a period of expansion that consisted of launching several new products and building a manufacturing plant, Lego launched the revolutionary “Lego System of Play” in 1955, an initial range of 28 sets with 8 vehicles, as well as incorporating many of the company’s recent innovations, including Lego windows and doors.
The launch of the modern Lego Brick
Lego began exporting its products to Sweden in 1955 and then to Germany in the following year. In 1958, the Lego “stud-and-tube” locking system was patented, marking the launch of the modern Lego brick familiar to us today. The late 1950s saw expansion in the UK, France and Belgium, which continued globally in the early 60s as the company began to export to Singapore, Hong Kong, Morocco and Japan, as well as the rest of Western Europe. Lego permanently stopped producing wooden toys in 1960 following a fire at a warehouse in Billund.
The 1960s were a period of continuous product innovation as model sets, battery-powered Lego train kits and a new line of jumbo-sized bricks aimed at children under five, Duplo, were launched into a market now buying more than 700 million Lego bricks a year. In 1968, Legoland Billund opened in Denmark and quickly became one of the country’s major tourist attractions. The 1970s saw the company expand massively, employing over 2,500 thousand people - three times more than it did in the mid-60s - and establishing a major presence in the USA.
1980s, 90s and the new century
The 1980s saw the introduction of many of the company’s most iconic and enduring product lines, including the Pirate and Castle sets, following at launch of the Space and Technics lines at the end of the 70s. By 1987, Lego employs over 6,000 people. In 1990 the company became the largest toy manufacturer in Europe and one of the ten largest in the world. The 1990s saw Lego expand into other global territories including Japan, China, Mexico and the companies of the former Eastern Bloc, like Russia and Hungary. In 1996, Legoland Windsor in England opened.
The late 1990s and the 2000s have seen Lego constantly innovate, being one of the first toy companies to explore the possibilities of CD-ROMs and later the internet. Licensed product lines have complemented traditional sets, keeping Lego as fresh and relevant to Children today as it was to their parents and even grandparents. Today people of all ages can also enjoy a series of highly popular Lego computer games based on the Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Batman licensed lines. Reflecting Lego's popularity, many blogs have also sprung up online, allowing fans all over the world to share their love of the little plastic bricks. With the company going from strength to strength, it seems likely that Lego will continue to delight and stimulate children for many generations to come.
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