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Ole Kirk Christiansen and his company called Lego

May 15, 2013

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How many of you remember Lego ? Those plastic bricks with little connecting circular tabs on that hurt like crazy if you stepped on them barefoot ?

I, like many other kids of my time, had boxes (or often whole buckets) of Lego. Not the specific sets of today that allow you to build one item, but a whole jumbled set of large and small, coloured pieces that you could assemble into a whole host of imaginary things. I always wondered what the story was behind this phenomenal toy that is still going strong after nearly 80 years ! Here’s what I discovered.

The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen (born 7 April 1891), a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. In 1934, his company came to be called “Lego”, from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”.

It expanded to producing plastic toys in 1947. In 1949 Lego began producing, among other new products, an early version of the now famous interlocking bricks, calling them “Automatic Binding Bricks”. These bricks were based in part on the Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks, which were patented in the United Kingdom in 1939 and then there released in 1947. Lego modified the design of the Kiddicraft brick after examining a sample given to it by the British supplier of an injection-molding machine that the company had purchased. The bricks, originally manufactured from cellulose acetate, were a development of traditional stackable wooden blocks that locked together by means of several round studs on top and a hollow rectangular bottom. The blocks snapped together, but not so tightly that they required extraordinary effort to be separated.

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The first Lego wheel featured in Lego set no. 400 (above), which was released in 1962. In 1967 it was Lego’s best-selling set with an impressive 820,400 units sold. Since the 1960s, the Lego Group has released thousands of sets with a variety of themes, including town and city, space, robots, pirates, trains, Vikings, castle, dinosaurs, undersea exploration, and wild west. By the 1970s Lego was sold in Europe, North and South America and Japan: pretty much any market where people had money to spend on toys. The beautiful 1973 box and logo redesign, clearly Swiss influenced, was the first attempt at a true international standard and in 1978, Lego produced the first minifigures, which have since become a staple in most sets.

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New elements are often released along with new sets. There are also Lego sets designed to appeal to young girls such as the Belville and Clikits lines which consist of small interlocking parts that are meant to encourage creativity and arts and crafts, much like regular Lego bricks. Belville and Clikit pieces can interlock with regular Lego bricks as decorative elements. While there are sets which can be seen to have a military theme – such as Star Wars, the German and Russian soldiers in the Indiana Jones sets, the Toy Story green soldiers and Lego Castle – there are no directly military-themed sets in any line. This is following Ole Kirk Christiansen’s policy of not wanting to make war seem like child’s play.

In May 2011, Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-134 brought 13 Lego kits to the International Space Station, where astronauts built models and see how they react in microgravity, as part of the Lego Bricks in Space program. The results will be shared with schools as part of an educational project.

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I remember when Lego was simply click together coloured bricks, there weren’t any Mini Figures (minifigs) and it looked a little like this.

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Nowdays people are going a little crazy and building all kinds of things from cars, recreations of Royal Weddings to whatever the latest film craze seems to be.

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Batman, Starwars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Legends of Chima.

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If you can excuse the swearing and like Starwars and Eddie Izzard then I still think his’ Deathstar canteen sketch’ is one of the funniest things around.

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According to Geekologie, These images above is a 150,000-piece Lego recreation of the Battle of Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings. It was built by Rich-K & Big J and contains over 1,700 minifigs ! I think some people have waaaay too much time on their hands : )

Back in 2008 a German artist, Jan Vormann and his friends scoured Bocchignano, near Rome, for walls that had fallen into disrepair, and set to work rebuilding them with the brightly coloured building blocks.

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To his surprise, the 25-year-old found that the children’s toy bricks were well suited to the job. “At first I thought it would be a complicated procedure to fit the pieces,” he said.”But as it turned out, the bigger plastic pieces were compatible with the smaller ones, and the Lego held itself in place without any glue whatsoever.” This started a global craze for filling in the cracks with lego and Jan started a site called Dispatchwork where if you add to a cityscape, you can send him some images and he will add them to the world map, and credit you.  Now off to headquarters….

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For the more techie amongst you, and yes I do know you’re out there, there is a wonderful article by CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman where you can see more about how the pieces are actually manufactured, in the factory in Denmark. It must be like the Lego version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory !

Of course don’t forget to visit Legoland for that true legofan experience of being surrounded by billions of cleverly constructed plastic bricks.

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Many thanks to WikipediaCodex99CNet and Lego.com for some of the images and info for this post and for the world’s biggest Lego Model check this out.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2013 8:47 am

    I had some little stone building blocks and wooden building blocks,enjoyed playing with them…but once my first lego arrived I was hooked. Still love lego. Especially my x-wing fighter and Darth Vader…got to go round the place where they build stuff for Legoland and see some of the pieces for the USA before they were shipped. Don’t forget Duplo- we passed most of my daughter’s on to smaller children once she was up to lego age, but had to keep the chickens.They are brilliant.

    • May 15, 2013 9:19 am

      Fantastic! Never heard of Jan Vormann before – his work is amazing!

      • May 15, 2013 9:38 am

        Yes it’s funny how ideas sometimes take off and ‘go global’ I’m not sure about the bright colours in such old walls, perhaps Lego should come up with a ‘rustic range’ especially for the purpose : )

    • May 15, 2013 9:36 am

      Chickens ? Now you have me stumped I had to google them to see what you meant, lol I’d have kept them too. Yes Duplo was Lego’s younger range wasn’t it. Great to hear you’re a darth vader fan then too, the Eddie Izzard sketch should be right up your street !

      • May 15, 2013 7:20 pm

        The Izzard Darth Vader Lego version is my favourite ‘go to’ video for when I need a really good laugh. Runner up is “Heroin Galore” from the Fast Show.

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