All About Lego: The History of Lego, The Lego Minifigure, Legoland and More
Humble Beginnings ~ The History of the Lego Brick
In 1916, a Danish master carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen bought himself a workshop in Billund, Denmark. He planned to work for himself, building homes and furniture. Little did he know that one day his little workshop would grow to be one of the biggest toy factories the world has ever known!
Ole was a hard working man. Over the next few years, he made a living building whatever people needed. Then in 1932, hard times hit his little workshop. It was the depression. His wife had just died, leaving him a single father to his four sons. Business was slow and he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Ole decided to make a few wooden toys to help make ends meet. Soon his toys were his bestsellers. He decided to focus on making wooden toys full time. He called his toy company Lego, from the Danish phrase "leg godt", which means "play well". Coincidentally, it also means "I put together" in Latin!
Ole believed that children deserved well made toys made with the highest quality materials. His motto was der bedste er ikke for godt, which is Danish for "only the best is good enough". He was doing a fine business making these perfect toys, but they took a lot of time to make. Ole realized that in order to expand his business, he would need a faster way to make toys. So in 1947, he decided to buy a plastic injection-molding machine. He began to make and sell plastic toys along with the wooden ones.
The Lego Brick
In 1949, Ole made his first brick, which he called an automatic binding brick. He renamed it Lego Mursten (Lego bricks) in 1953.
By now Ole's son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, had become CEO of the company. It was Godtfred's idea to create the Lego System of Play based around this versitile little brick. In 1955, Lego launched the System of Play that included a Town Plan range of 28 construction sets and 8 vehicles.
In 1957, Lego updated the brick into its new stud-and-tube interlocking system that we still know today. Any piece of Lego made after 1957 will fit into any Lego set made today.
Lego was great for the older kids, but smaller kids were missing out. In 1967, Lego Duplo was invented for smaller hands. The pieces were bigger and easier to put together and pull apart. And there is no danger of choking. Now kids of all ages could enjoy Lego.
At this point business was booming. What started as a one man business had expanded into a factory with 600 employees.
The Lego factory in Billund, Denmark was beginning to become a bit of a tourist attraction. Godtfred noticed that around 20,000 people a year were traveling to the factory to view the Lego sculptures that decorated the outside of the factory. He decided to create a huge outdoor display, which he called Legoland.
On June 7, 1968, the original Legoland Park in Billund, Denmark opened its doors. It was originally 125,000 square feet, but has since doubled in size. Today, in addition to the one in Denmark, there are Legolands in the UK, Germany, California, Florida and Malaysia. Each Legoland features giant elaborate Lego sculptures and Lego themed rides. There is also a Miniland area, a display unique to each theme park. These Miniland areas have Lego sculptures and famous landmarks from its home country and from around the world. Many of the display are added to and changed seasonally, so it is always a different place to explore.
The Lego Minifigure
By the 1970s, Lego sets were a hot item. There were a variety of different sets such as Lego castles, dollhouses, and ships. Kids enjoyed building with Lego, but something was missing. In 1978, tiny people made of Lego called Lego minifigures were invented. The very first ever Lego minifigure released was a policeman and his police car. Next came spacemen, nurses and knights. Now children could play for hours with their tiny action figures and their Lego sculptures.
The first Lego minifigures all looked alike. They had the same yellow face, two black dots for eyes and a happy smile. It wasn't until 1989 that they begin to change their features. Now there are over 2500 different characters. Minifigures based on movies are especially popular for collectors. There are minifigures of characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Spider-man and Indiana Jones movies. Some minifigures are available in Lego sets. Or you can buy them separately. There are currently 12 series of Lego minifigures on the market and each series has 16 different minifigures.
Over 122 million minifigures are sold every year. There are over 4 billion minifigures in existence today!
It is amazing what you can do with the simple little lego brick ~ just use your imagination!
The Lego brand keeps branching out into new and exciting products. There are Lego video games, board games, books, magazines, magnets, watches and clothing lines based on Lego. Lego has been popular for 50 years now with no signs of losing its popularity. In fact, in 1994, Fortune Magazine named the Lego brick one of the "Products of the Century"! Kids love Lego because it is fun to play with. Parents love that it is an educational toy that promotes creative and quiet play. At this rate I think Lego will be popular forever!
My sources for this hub are:
- The Lego Book by Daniel Lipkowitz
- Standing Small by DK Publishing
- Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them by Tim Walsh.