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The LEGO History

Updated on June 10, 2014
LEGO Logo
LEGO Logo

From childhood to adulthood these construction toys have been able to grab our imagination. LEGOs give us the ability to stretch our imagination and create a magical world using simple blocks. Whether following the direction in the box or designing something of your own invention, the mental challenge gives us a sense of accomplishment. When you finish your end product, it can be played with like an action figure or you can disassemble it and enjoy the process all over again.

The Beginning

In 1932 Ole Kirk Christiansen founded The LEGO Group in Denmark. The LEGO name was created in 1934 and comes from the Danish words "leg godt", meaning "play well". According to the LEGO website they did not realize their name in Latin means “I put Together”. It seems LEGO had a destiny. This private toy company has been passed down from generation to generation since its founding and has become one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world.

At first the company built stepladders, ironing boards, stools and wooden toys. A small company with only 6-7 employees, the family business already takes shape as Ole Kirk’s son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, is working for the business. Godtfred is only 12 years old when he started working for his father and 17 when he begins to make models for the company.

Ole took pride in his work and believed that quality should never be sacrificed. He came up with the motto “det bedste er ikke for godt” which roughly means “Only the best is good enough”. In 1936, Godtfred cuts out and hangs this motto in their workshop. So strong is their belief in quality of their products, that Lego still uses this motto today.

The beginning of the 1940s was a tough time but the company was able to prosper despite the challenges that were thrown in its way. Denmark was occupied by the Germans and because of this Godfred became the Lego manager, instead of going abroad to study. Their factory burned to the ground in 1942 but they were able to rise from the ashes and quickly start manufacturing wooden toys again.

By 1946 the company was thriving and making DDK (Danish Krone) 450,000 a year and was able to purchase the first plastic injection-moulding machine for toy production in Denmark. With their high standards for quality, Lego was able to prosper in the plastic toy market even when the Danish trade magazine Legetøjs-Tidende (Toy-Times) stated “plastic would never be able to replace good and honest wooden toys.” after a visit to the Lego factory. It would only take 5 years before half their toys would be made of plastic. One of the 200 different toys being made by Lego in 1949 were the Automatic Binding Bricks. These plastic bricks came in four colors (red, white, yellow, light green) and had either four or eight studs on top. They were hollow on the bottom and had slots on two sides so that pictures or postcards could easily fit inside. These would be the precursors to the bricks Lego is famously known for today.

Automatic Binding Bricks
Automatic Binding Bricks

The LEGO Journey Continues

LEGO suffered another fire at their wooden toy warehouse in 1960. With the building destroyed LEGO discontinues their wooden toy line. This would mark the end of the toys that originally built the company. Not making things easier for the company and its image, the following year LEGO would experience its first labor strike.

Continuing his fathers belief in quality, Godfred presents the company with what he believes to be the top 10 characteristics of their LEGO products. The qualities he wished to instill were unlimited play potential for boys and girls at every age. He wanted year-round play that was healthy, quiet, lasted long hours and helped with development, imagination and creativity. He believed the more LEGOs, the greater the value, so extra sets were to be available. Last but not least, quality was to be in every detail. The next year LEGO released individual model sets with building instructions to be natural addition to already existing sets released earlier.

On June 7th 1968 the first LEGOLAND would open in their hometown of Billund, Denmark. 3,000 visitors show up for its opening day and it drew in 625,000 people for its first year.

Although the LEGO name had been around since 1934, it would not be until 1973 that the company created a single logo to be used on all of their different products. They now had an official banner. Having factories and offices all over the world, where dozens of different languages are spoken, LEGO made English its official company language in 1975, despite the company still being based in Denmark. Keeping with the family tradition, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen’s son, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, became CEO and President of LEGO in 1979. Kjeld would be inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame 10 years Later.

By 1980 Lego had such a large global presence that one survey concluded 70% of all Western European families with kids under 14 had LEGOs in their home. It seems only logical that they should have a LEGO World Show. In 1981 they did just that in Denmark. Things were going wonderful for LEGO. New products were being developed, the company was rising in its global rankings, people were setting Guinness record using LEGOs and they were getting international recognition.

Unfortunately by the mid 90s LEGO started to suffer some setbacks. On July 13, 1995 Godtfred Kirk Christiansen passed away at the age of 74. In 1998, LEGO would be weighed down in debt for the first time in its history. The following year, LEGO had to shed 1,000 jobs because of restructuring. The company would experience a rollercoaster of experiences over the next few years. In 2005 they sold The LEGOLAND parks to Merlin Entertainments and were finally able to get their business back on track and profitable.

LEGO Bricks are Born

In 1953 the Automatic Binding Bricks were renamed LEGO Mursten (LEGO Bricks) and “LEGO” was printed on the inside. The following year the LEGO name was officially trademarked. It would be in this same year Godtfred came up with the “LEGO system” idea after talking with an English purchasing agent. Although the LEGO system would be the basis for LEGO Bricks phenomenal success, there were some technical difficulties that needed to be worked out. The current bricks were limited in both their locking ability and versatility. Despite these challenges Lego was able to put out its first LEGO System of Play in 1955. It consisted of 28 sets, 8 vehicles and supplemental elements. It would not be until 1958 that the well recognized LEGO stud-and-tube coupling system was created and patented. Sadly, with all of these wonderful things happening that would forever shape the company, Ole Kirk Christiansen passes away at the age of 66 and Godtfred became head of the company.

Brick of the Century

Despite the company's financial woes, the LEGO brick was still doing great. In 1999 LEGO began releasing licensed building sets like Star Wars. These have proven to be extremely popular and helped inspire future LEGO building sets. This same year The National Toy Hall of Fame was opened and LEGO was one of the original 17 inductees. By the beginning of the century Fortune Magazine named the brick its Products of the Century and LEGO was also awarded “Toy of the Century” by The British Association of Toy Retailers.

The LEGO minifigures have always had yellow as their skin coloring. However, in 2003 LEGO moved to use more authentic skin coloring, facial expressions and hairstyles when the minifigures represented real people or characters from books, movies and Television. This would be a huge commitment with the popularity of their licensed merchandise.

For LEGO’s 75th anniversary in 2007 thing were looking great. They had around 2.6 million LEGO club members and their bricks would be turning 50 the following year. LEGO has enjoyed continued success and has a huge fan following. As of 2011 The LEGO Group would be considered the third largest toy manufacturer in the world.

Dimensions of a standard LEGO brick and plate
Dimensions of a standard LEGO brick and plate

Anatomy Of The Brick

As anyone who has ever built something out of LEGOs knows, there is a large variety of shapes and sizes to their pieces. Yet, all of these different pieces are of a universal system that allows them to be compatible with each other. The LEGOs from 1958 will still fit with a piece bought today. To make sure that as you grow older you can still enjoy LEGOs, the young children sets will interlock with the sets designed for older teenagers/adults.

The LEGO stud-and-tube coupling system was designed in 1958 but the material would not be perfected until 1963. With the discovery of the acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) polymer Lego found the ideal substance. This plastic improved the gripping power of the bricks and drastically improved their ability to stick together. In order to use the ABS plastic must be heated to 232 °C (450 °F). When it reaches a doughy consistency it is then injected into the molds at 25 to 150 tons of pressure. It only takes about 15 seconds for the ABS plastic to cool.

To implement the requirement that two pieces must fit firmly together and be easily disassembled no matter what set they come from, LEGO uses a machine that has a tolerance as small as 10 micrometers to manufacture their bricks and the molds are only allowed a tolerance of 2 micrometers. As an added level of quality control, a real person inspect the products out of the molds. They will eliminate any pieces that are significantly different in color or thickness. For every million bricks, only around 18 will fail to meet standards.

A LEGO product is developed in several stages over the course of a year. The initial stage is market research. Not only do they talk to toy shops but children are also interviewed. For the second stage the results from the research determine what products should be designed. As of 2008 design sketches are converted to 3D models that are then analysed and modified in a computer program. From there a prototype is built using a stereolithorgraphy machine. This machine is basically a 3D printer. Once a prototype is created, the entire project team will go over the design again. The prototypes will also be tested by both children and parents. After focus groups have given their feedback, some alterations may be made. For the final process of development virtual models of the end product are built along with the writing of the user instructions.

Fun Facts

  • About 36 billion bricks are produced every year.
  • All but 1% of the plastic waste is recycled every year.
  • That 1% is sold to industries who can use it.

LEGO Hub Links

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    • supermanparadis profile image

      Drew Paradis 4 years ago from New England

      So are you a big fan of LEGO®?

    • Geekdom profile image
      Author

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      A little bit. :)

      The LEGO hubs are some of my favorite ones to write.

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 4 years ago from Midwest

      Very interesting hub! I didn't know any of this. I really like the fact that the toy was named leg godt in Danish not realizing it meant "I Put Together" in Latin.

    • Geekdom profile image
      Author

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      I thought that was a very fascinating fact as well. Thanks for commenting.

    • RolyRetro profile image

      RolyRetro 4 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      I collected the Star Wars Lego sets for a while, buying and selling them on eBay for fun and a small profit. Some of the sets I was selling for 4 or 5 pounds are now worth 3 or 4 times that, and I have box full of some of the rarer sets, which is now worth over a thousand pounds. Forget stocks and shares, just buy mint lego sets from the Star Wars range and sit on them for 10 years!

      Cheers

      Roly

    • Geekdom profile image
      Author

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      Congratulations! It is great when you can make money from a hobby you enjoy. You should check out my LEGO Star Wars Hubs. You might find them fun. I would definitely love you feedback on them. It is always good to hear from people who are big fans of the subjects being discussed.

    • Geekdom profile image
      Author

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      I just wanted to thank all the people who voted and helped this Hub win the HubPages' Rising Star Accolades. Thank You

    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

      Great article. I loved legos and still do. We didn't have them as a child. As a teenager I found them at my male cousins houses. I could spend hours with them.

    • Geekdom profile image
      Author

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      They really can engage you for hours. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    • expertscolumn profile image

      Stanley Soman 4 years ago from New York

      I thought this article was interesting. I remember LEGO products used to hurt when my cousins threw them at me, even though they're plastic they are thick plastic, it hurts.

    • Geekdom profile image
      Author

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      I am glad yo enjoyed the article. I never had a LEGO thrown at me but I can remember more than one occasion when I stepped on them with my bare foot and it hurt like H E double hockey Sticks (keep it PG since this is a kids article).

      Thanks for reading.

    • Skylanders profile image

      Suzanne Kirkhope 4 years ago from California

      Really interesting hub. I got my first Legos in the 70's and my kids love the new stuff. I remember my brother had all the space lego in the early 80's

    • Geekdom profile image
      Author

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      LEGO has done a great job of capturing the imagination of children over several generations. As a kid I loved the space sets. Glad you found the hub interesting.

    • profile image

      LEGOdomenick 3 years ago

      I will be using this article for a lot of my #dailyLEGOtrivia tweets.

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