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The History of the LEGO Company
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Laurie Graba 

 

The LEGO story begins in the small village of Billund Denmark.  Ole Kirk Christiansen was born April 7, 1891.  He was a hard working carpenter who purchased a local workshop in 1916.   Originally he made a living by building homes and furniture for farmers in the surrounding villages. For cost savings reasons, he began to look for ways to minimize his production costs, so he began producing tiny versions of his products to show his clients.  His workshop produced miniature stepladders and ironing boards. It was these mini creations that inspired him to begin to make toys. 

 

In 1932 his shop began to manufacture wooden toys including wooden blocks, yo-yo’s, piggy banks, cars, trucks and wooden pull toys.  As the Great Depression approached American families were very poor.  When they did earn money, it certainly wasn’t going to be spent on toys.  In order to keep his business alive, Ole was forced to return to building furniture and only able to produce toys on the side.

 

In 1934 the LEGO Company was formed.  Christiansen pulled the name from the Danish phrase Leg Godt which means “play well”.  Unknown to Christiansen, the name LEGO also means “I put together” in Latin.  By 1939 the shop had grown to a total of 10 employees. And so the LEGO Company was born. 

 

In 1942 the LEGO factory burned to the ground.  The factory was rebuilt quickly and began producing wooden toys in no time at all.  In 1947, Christiansen and his son Godtfred stumbled across interlocking plastic bricks being made by a company called Kiddicraft.  These blocks intrigued the Ole Kirk and his son and in 1949 the LEGO Company also began to produce similar interlocking plastic bricks.  They were called Automatic Binding Bricks.  In 1953 these bricks became known as “LEGO Bricks”.  These bricks were not quite the ones we know today, but along the same principles.    As these new LEGO bricks were being introduced, many of the first shipments ended up being returned because at the time, plastics were not the preferred material for making toys with.  The general population felt that plastic toys would never replace wooden ones.  This did not stop the Christiansen’s.  They were determined to make a hit out of their new plastic interlocking bricks.  Life is a gift," Ole Kirk Christiansen told his children, "but it’s more than just that. Life is a challenge.

 

In 1954, Ole Kirk’s son Godtfred became managing director.  He was truly dedicated and passionate about building a successful business. Sadly in this same year Ole Kirk Christiansen passed away.  The company was turned over to his son Godtfred.  In 1958 a more advanced version of the LEGO Brick was introduced.  This version had an improved interlocking system.  The bricks introduced in 1958 are very similar to the ones we know today.

 

The 1960’s was a period of massive growth for the LEGO Company.  Many important changes took place during this time.  In 1961 and 1962 wheels were added as an accessory.  The addition of the wheel allowed children to expand further in their creative play endeavors.  In 1963, the manufacturing process went from using a cellulose acetate to using an ABS plastic.  The ABS plastic is still being used in production today.  The ABS plastic was a better choice as it is non-toxic, more durable and holds up against heat, salt and other various chemicals.  The bricks made in 1963 are still compatible with the bricks being manufactured today. 

 

In 1966 the company introduced train systems.  This was one of the company’s most successful product launches.  In 1967 the first LEGOland Park opened up in Billund.  Finally to close out this impressive decade, the LEGO Company introduced their Duplo series.  Godtfred Christiansen was confident that younger children could also benefit from a larger version of the LEGO Brick.  For safety reasons, these bricks are considerably larger than the traditional LEGO Brick. Due to their large size and bright colors, these bricks help develop younger children’s fine motor skills and encourage dramatic and creative play.  Duplo bricks were a wonderful addition to the LEGO family. 

 

Figures were added to the collection in 1974, this allowed for role play and personality to be incorporated into the LEGO world.   The original figures did not have faces because they needed to be able to suit any situation a child may imagine. In 1979 space sets were added to further encourage children’s imagination and interest in outer space. 

 

The 1980’s brought a partnership with Media Laboratory at MIT.  As a result, they company launched LEGO Technic.  This was the initiative laid the ground work for computer controlled LEGO robots of the future.

 

In the 1990’s the LEGO Company reached out to the female market as they introduced Bellville and other product sets that incorporated fairy tales and princesses. The 1990’s also brought about the beginning of the FIRST LEGO league.  FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).  FIRST LEGO league is an organization that promotes creativity and allows children the opportunity to engage in robot design with their peers.  Members are also required to take part in various math and science endeavors.

 

In 2000 LEGO partnered with Lucas Film Industries which allowed them rights to market and manufacture sets based on the Star Wars movies.  In 2001 the Legend of Bionicle line was unveiled.

 

Today the company is home to 4500 employees.  The LEGO Company is the world’s 5th largest toy manufacturer and was voted the Toy of the Century by Fortune Magazine.   The company’s motto is “only the best is good enough”.   Each year approximately 17.8 billion bricks and accessories are manufactured.  This equates to about 33,824 pieces per minute.  There are currently 55 different colors utilized in production.  The production process entails heating plastic to 232 degrees C until it has a dough like consistency.  It is then injected into moulds using a pressure of 25-150 tons.  It then takes 7 seconds to cool and eject the piece.  The moulds used are so precisely accurate that only 18 pieces in every 1 million produced do not measure up to the company’s standards. 

 

LEGO products are embraced by teachers and parents alike in more than 130 different countries.  LEGO bricks are an excellent resource for educators.  They can be used in almost any discipline from language arts, to science to math. .  LEGO Bricks also provide children with hours of educational entertainment.  The company prides itself on providing quality toys that allow children to learn and develop through play.  The LEGO company believes that play is an important ingredient in a child’s development and growth.  Play allows a child to imagine, create, test and express ideas.  It is the LEGO Company’s firm belief that play enriches a child’s life. Through creative play children will develop creativity, patience, fine motor, hand eye coordination and problem solving skills for a lifetime. 

 

In closing here are some fun LEGO facts: 

 

-Over 400 million children and adults will play with LEGO bricks this year alone.

 

-Approximately 7 LEGO sets are sold each second.

 

- Laid end to end, the number of LEGO bricks sold in a year would reach more than five times around the world.

 

- On average there are 62 LEGO bricks on earth for every person on Earth.

 

- Children around the world spend 5 billion hours a year playing with LEGO bricks.

 

- The LEGO brand name should always be written in capital letters.

 

- LEGO should never be used in a generic term and should never never be used in the plural form such as LEGO’s.

 

 - The LEGO brand name should never stand alone and should always be used as part of a noun such as the LEGO Group or LEGO bricks.

 

- The first time the LEGO brand name appears it must be accompanied by the registered trademark symbol .