History of LEGO
History of LEGO toys
The LEGO Group had humble beginnings in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a poor carpenter from Billund, Denmark. His innovative family-owned business would one day grow into one of the most respected toy companies in the world.
In 1916, Christiansen purchased a woodworking shop in Billund which had been in business since 1895. He earned his living by constructing houses and furniture for farmers in the region, with the help of a small staff of apprentices. His workshop burned down in 1924 when a fire, lit by two of his young sons, ignited some wood shavings. Undaunted, Ole Kirk took the disaster as an opportunity to construct a larger workshop, and worked towards expanding his business even further; however, the Great Depression would soon have an impact on his livelihood. In finding ways to minimize production costs, Ole Kirk began producing miniature versions of his products as design aids. It was these miniature stepladders and ironing boards that inspired him to begin producing toys.
In 1932, Ole Kirk's shop started making wooden pull toys, piggy banks, cars and trucks. He enjoyed a modest amount of success, but families were poor and often unable to afford such toys. Farmers in the area sometimes traded food in exchange for his toys; Ole Kirk found he had to continue producing practical furniture in addition to toys in order to stay in business. In the mid-1930s, the yo-yo toy fad gave him a brief period of activity, until its sudden collapse. Once again, Ole Kirk turned disadvantage to his favor, turning the disused yo-yo parts into wheels for a toy truck. His son Godtfred Kirk Christiansen began working for him, taking an active role in the company.
It was in 1934 that the company name LEGO was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning "play well." The LEGO Group claims that "LEGO" means "I put together" or "I assemble" in Latin , though this is a rather liberal translation of a verb form that would normally translate as "I read" or "I gather."
When plastic came into widespread use, Ole Kirk kept with the times and began producing plastic toys. One of the first modular toys to be produced was a truck that could be taken apart and re-assembled. In 1947, Ole Kirk and Godtfred obtained samples of interlocking plastic bricks produced by the company Kiddicraft. These "Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks" were designed and patented by Mr. Hilary Harry Fisher Page, a British citizen.   In 1949 the LEGO Group began producing similar bricks, calling them "Automatic Binding Bricks." LEGO bricks, manufactured from cellulose acetate, were developed in the spirit of traditional wooden blocks that could be stacked upon one another; however, these plastic bricks could be "locked" together. They had several round "studs" on top, and a hollow rectangular bottom. They would stick together, but not so tightly that they couldn't be pulled apart. In 1953, the bricks were given a new name: LEGO Mursten, or "LEGO Bricks."
The use of plastic for toy manufacture was not highly regarded by retailers and consumers of the time. Many of the LEGO Group's shipments were returned, following poor sales; it was thought that plastic toys could never replace wooden ones. Despite such criticism, however, the Kirk Christiansens persevered. By 1954, Godtfred had become the junior managing director of the LEGO Group. It was his conversation with an overseas buyer that struck the idea of a toy system. Godtfred saw the immense potential in LEGO bricks to become a system for creative play, but the bricks still had some problems from a technical standpoint: their "locking" ability was limited, and they were not very versatile. It wasn't until 1958 that the modern-day brick design was developed. The bricks were improved with hollow tubes in the underside of the brick. This added support in the base, enabling much better locking ability and improved versatility. That same year, Ole Kirk Christiansen died, and Godtfred inherited leadership of the company.
The LEGO Group matured substantially over the coming years. In 1959, the Futura division was founded within the company. Its small staff was responsible for generating ideas for new sets. Another warehouse fire struck the LEGO Group in 1960, consuming most of the company's inventory of wooden toys; fortunately, the LEGO brick line was strong enough by then that the company decided to abandon production of wooden toys. By the end of the year, the staff of the LEGO Group had grown to 450.
1961 and 1962 saw the introduction of the first LEGO wheels, an addition that expanded the potential for building cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles from LEGO bricks. Also during this time, the LEGO Group introduced toys specifically targeted towards the pre-school market, and made an arrangement allowing Samsonite to begin producing and selling LEGO products in Canada, an arrangement that would continue until 1988. There were more than 50 sets of bricks in the LEGO System of Play by this time.
In 1963, the material used to create LEGO bricks, cellulose acetate, was dropped in favor of more stable acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS plastic, which is still used as of 2004. ABS is non-toxic, is less prone to discoloration and warping, and is also more resistant to heat, acids, salt, and other chemicals than cellulose acetate. LEGO bricks manufactured from ABS plastic in 1963 still hold most of their shape and color 40 years later, and still neatly interlock with LEGO bricks manufactured in 2003.
1964 was the first time that instruction manuals were included in LEGO sets.
One of the LEGO Group's most successful series, the LEGO train system, was first released in 1966. The original train sets included a 4.5-volt motor and rails; two years later, a 12-volt motor was introduced.
On June 7, 1968, the first LEGOLAND Park was opened in Billund. This theme park featured elaborate models of miniature towns built entirely from LEGO bricks. The three acre (12,000 m²) park attracted 625,000 visitors in its first year alone. During the next 20 years, the park grew to more than eight times its original size, and eventually averaged close to a million paying visitors per year. More than eighteen million LEGO sets were sold in 1968.
In 1969, the DUPLO system went on sale. This was a newly developed system, targeted towards younger children; DUPLO bricks are much larger than LEGO bricks, making them safer for very young children, but the two systems are compatible: LEGO bricks can be fitted neatly onto DUPLO bricks, making the transition to the LEGO system easily made as children outgrow their DUPLO bricks.
The 1960s were such a period of growth for the LEGO Group that by 1970, one of the biggest questions they faced was how best to manage and control its expanding market.
By 1970, the LEGO Group had a staff of more than 900. The coming decades marked considerable expansion into new frontiers of toy making and marketing. LEGO began to target the female market with the introduction of furniture pieces and dollhouses in 1971. The LEGO universe expanded its transportation possibilities with the addition of boat and ship sets, with hull pieces that actually floated, in 1972.
During this same period, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen's son, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, joined the managerial staff of the company, after earning business degrees in Switzerland and Denmark. (Kjeld's surname is spelled with a "K", instead of a "Ch", due to a mistake on his birth certificate; he kept the spelling.) One of Kjeld's first achievements with the company was the foundation of manufacturing facilities, as well as a research and development department that would be responsible for keeping the company's manufacturing methods up to date. Human figures with posable arms made an appearance in 1974 in "LEGO family" sets, which went on to become the biggest sellers at the time; in the same year, an early version of the "minifigure" miniature LEGO person was introduced, but it was not posable and had no face printed on its head. A LEGO production plant was opened in Enfield, Connecticut in the United States.
"Expert Series" sets were first introduced in 1975, geared towards older, more experienced LEGO builders. This line soon developed into the "Expert Builder" sets, released in 1977. These technical sets featured moving parts such as gears, differentials, cogs, levers, axles and universal joints, and permitted the construction of realistic models such as automobiles, with functional rack and pinion steering and lifelike engine movements. Finally, the LEGO world came together in 1978 with the addition of the LEGO "minifigure" that is still known today. These small LEGO people have posable arms and legs, and a friendly smile. The figure was used in many varieties of LEGO sets, allowing consumers to construct elaborate towns with buildings, roads, vehicles, trains, and boats, at the same scale, and populated with the smiling minifigure LEGO citizens.
Another significant expansion to the LEGO line occurred in 1979, with the creation of LEGO Space sets. Astronaut minifigures, rockets, lunar rovers and spaceships populated this successful series. FABULAND, a fantasy series targeted towards younger children, debuted in this year as well, as did the SCALA series, featuring jewelry elements marketed towards young girls. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen became the president of LEGO in this year; another decade concluded with LEGO toys still going strong.
LEGO bricks had always had a constructive potential that was seen by some educators as being an invaluable asset in helping children to develop creativity and problem-solving abilities. Since the 1960s, teachers had been using LEGO bricks in the classroom for a variety of reasons. In 1980, the LEGO Group established the Educational Products Department (eventually renamed LEGO DACTA, in 1989), specifically to expand the educational possibilities of their toys. A packing and assembly factory opened in Switzerland, followed by another in Jutland, Denmark that manufactured LEGO tires.
The second generation of LEGO trains appeared in 1981. As before these were available in either 4.5 V (battery powered) or 12 V (mains powered), but a much wider variety of accessories were available, including working lights, remote-controlled points and signals, and even decouplers.
The "Expert Builder" series matured in 1982, becoming the "Technic" series. August 13 of that year marked the LEGO Group's 50th anniversary; the book 50 Years of Play was published to commemorate the occasion. In the following year, the DUPLO system was expanded to include sets for even younger audiences, particularly infants; new sets included baby rattles and figures with adjustable limbs. In another year, LEGO minifigure citizens gained a realm of knights and horses, with the introduction of the first Castle sets. Light & Sound sets made their appearance in 1986; these sets included a battery pack with electrical lights, buzzers, and other accessories to add another dimension of realism to LEGO creations. Also that year, the LEGO Group's educational division produced the Technic Computer Control, which was an educational system whereby Technic robots, trucks, and other motorized models could be controlled with a computer. Manaus, Brazil gained a LEGO factory in this year, as well.
In August of 1988, 38 children from 17 different countries took part in the first LEGO World Cup building contest, held in Billund. That same year, LEGO Canada was established. The LEGO line grew again in 1989 with the release of the LEGO Pirates series, which featured a variety of pirate ships, desert islands and treasure; the series was also the first to depart from the standard minifigure smiling face to create an array of piratical characters. The LEGO Group's Educational Products Department was renamed LEGO DACTA in this year; the name is derived from the Greek word "didactic", which roughly means "the study of the learning process." MIT's Dr. Seymour Papert, from the Laboratory of Computer Learning, was named "LEGO Professor of Learning Research," after his ongoing work in linking the Logo programming language with LEGO products.
A new series designed for advanced builders was released in 1990. Three Model Team sets, including a racecar and an off-road vehicle, featured a level of detail and realism not previously seen in any LEGO series. Where Technic was mechanically accurate, Model Team was visually and stylistically accurate. The LEGO Group became one of the top 10 toy companies in this year; it was the only toy company in Europe to be among the top 10. LEGOLAND Billund had more than one million visitors in this year, for the first time in its history. The first-ever "LEGO Professor of Business Dynamics," Xavier Gilbert, was appointed to an endowed chair at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. LEGO Malaysia was also established in 1990. In 1991, the LEGO Group standardized its electrical components and systems; the Trains and Technic motors were made 9V to bring the systems into line with the rest of the LEGO range.
Two Guinness records were set in 1992 using LEGO products: A castle made from 400,000 LEGO bricks, and measuring 4.45 meters by 5.22 meters, was built on Swedish television, and a LEGO railway line 545 meters in length, with three locomotives, was constructed. DUPLO was augmented with the addition of the Toolo line featuring a screwdriver, wrench, nuts and bolts; the Paradisa line, targeted towards girls, brought a variety of new pastel colors into the LEGO system and focused around horses and a beach theme. 1993 brought a DUPLO train and a parrot-shaped "brickvac" that could scoop LEGO pieces up off the floor.
Early prototypes of the LEGO minifigure had a variety of skin colors and facial expressions, but production designs used only a yellow skin color and standard smiling face. LEGO Pirates in 1989 expanded the array of facial expressions by adding beards and eye patches. Soon the other themes caught on, ranging from sun glasses, lipstick, eye lashes, and so on. However, many of the older collectors resented the new look, saying they looked too "cartoon-ish" or "kiddy", and prefered the simplistic nature of the two eyes and smile. Nevertheless, licensed series such as LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Harry Potter gave minifigures the personas of specific characters from their cinematic counterparts, but it wasn't until 2003, with the introduction of LEGO Basketball, that the palette of skin tones broadened to include more lifelike colors.
In the late 1990s, the LEGO Group brought out a series of new and specialized ranges aimed at particular demographics. The Bionicle range uses Technic pieces and specialized moldings to create a set of action figures for boys, while Belville is a more conventional line aimed at girls and featuring large posable figures like those in the Technic range. A "LEGO 4 Juniors" group features medium-sized figures with jointed arms, and longer legs than the classic LEGO minifigure. In 2003, the LEGO Group introduced a completely new system, Clikits, aimed at girls and consisting of customizable plastic jewelry and accessories. In 2004, they created Knights Kingdom.