The LEGO Company
The LEGO Company (TLC) - sometimes The LEGO Group (TLG) - is a multinational, privately held corporation headquartered in Billund, Denmark, with worldwide annual revenues in excess of several billion US dollars. The company manufactures building bricks based on patented "stud and tube" technology.
The LEGO Company's humble beginnings date back to a small woodworking shop, founded in 1895. Ole Kirk Christiansen, a master carpenter in Billund, Denmark, purchased the shop in 1916, and began modest carpentry services.
During the depression, Christiansen needed to focus on cheaper items, since fewer people were erecting new buildings or improving their existing ones. He started focusing more on smaller items such as stepladders and ironing boards. Then, in 1932, the shop started construction of hand-made wooden toys. The brand name "LEGO" was not used by the company until 1934, when Christiansen held a competition among his employees. LEGO continued to make wooden toys until 1960.
In 1949, LEGO first began manufacturing plastic building bricks, based on a design by KiddieKraft in England. However, it was not until 1958 that the stud-and-tube "coupling system" was first introduced. The stud-and-tube system enabled LEGO elements to bind together more soundly and allowed a far more versatile system of play. This innovation, as well as the idea of the LEGO "system" of toys quickly began catauplting the product to widespread success.
In the 1960s and 1970s, LEGO expanded its product line to include motorized trains, DUPLO, and Technic -- providing toys for children from birth through young adulthood. The first LEGOLAND theme park opened in Billund in 1968.
In 1978, LEGO introduced the "mini figure," or "minifig" for short. Introduction of the minifig drastically increased the playability and popularity of LEGO sets, and further cemented the company's reputation for fun and quality. The minifig soon became the basis for play in the company's LEGOLAND and System themes, with Castle, Space, and Town themes followed by Pirates, Adventurers, Insectoids, and other original themes.
In 1999, LEGO released the first licensed sets, which featured vehicles from the first Star Wars prequel and the Classic Trilogy. LEGO has since released licensed products based on Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and several more.
The company's original and licensed themes fueled explosive growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The LEGO Company licensed its own brand to third-party companies, who made clothing, school supplies, and other products with the LEGO logo emblazened on them. The success of its Mindstorms robotics system led to PC and video games. The company also quickly increased the number of theme parks it operated from one (the original park in Billund) to four. In 2003, company revenues fell sharply, leading to reorganizations and a reevaluation of company direction, including the sale of its theme parks and layoffs in its media division.
By late 2014 bus the company became the leading toy manufacturer worldwide, overtaking the previous leader Mattel (maker of Barbie, Hot Wheels and other brands including Mega Bloks which was purchased the same year.)