Legos: Facts, History And Trivia About The Universal Building Toy
Left: Medieval-themed Lego set from 1979, complete with jousting knights, nobility, and guards, one of the first minifigure packages. Right: Dagny Holm, niece of Ole Kirk Christiansen and arguably the first master builder. Source: Lego.com
Legos are everywhere. At this point, several generations of people all over the world have grown up building things out of Lego bricks, and the toys have evolved. Once upon a time, the bricks were all basic squares or rectangles of bright plastic. Specialized pieces were introduced; minifigures were introduced, gears and pulleys and motors were introduced -- today, industrious builders can create a scale model of just about anything from Legos, or design completely new structures.
Lego Began As A Manufacturer Of Wooden Toys
Lego is based in Billund, Denmark and was founded before World II. It arose out of a series of tragedies. Ole Kirk Christiansen began as a carpenter and a fire destroyed his shop. His wife died in 1932, the world plunged into depression after the American stock market crashed, and he was forced to lay off most of his staff. The solution he came up with was to make inexpensive toys out of wood. He was a talented toymaker, renaming his company leg godt (play good), the name which would become Lego. Another fire destroyed his factory and because of the scarcity of traditional manufacturing materials, he began to craft out toys out of plastic.
In 1946, Christiansen purchased a plastic injection molding machine, despite the fact that they were not legal in Denmark until 1947. He started producing Automatic Binding Blocks that year, based on an interlocking brick design from the British company Kiddicraft. In 1949, he received a patent for a wooden version of his blocks, and then, in 1958, shortly before his death, he received a patent for the plastic blocks.
LEGO Hasn't Strayed Too Far
Lego is still based in Billund which is also the location for the Idea House, which includes almost every Lego set ever produced in a climate-controlled archive.
Small Blocks Deserve Small People
The 1970s brought some important changes for Lego. The Lego logo was designed in 1973. The minifigure was introduced in 1975. At first they were faceless so that they could be used for any imaginative purpose. Lego decided that they would be yellow because it was racially neutral. They are airheads on purpose as well; if you remove the hair from a minifigure, you will find that they have holes on either side, permitting air to flow through it. This deliberate feature is to stop a child from choking if they happen to swallow the head. Each minifigure was four bricks high until the introduction of the Yoda minifigure. And finally, the first themed set, Legoland Space was introduced in 1979.
Lego By The Numbers
1,300 Lego bricks are made every second. If the Lego bricks produced every year were laid end to end, they would circle the globe more than 5 times. There are over 4 billion Lego minifigures in the world, making them the largest population on earth. Speaking of population, there are more than 80 bricks for every person on earth.
Each brick has a number printed inside it. That number allows people to trace defective bricks back to their point of origin to fix the problem.
Lego bricks are incredibly durable. They are designed to take950 pounds of pressure. A total of 375,000 bricks can be stacked on top of one before the bottom one gives out.
They produce in more than 60 different colors and have more than 3,700 different elements.
They Travel Well
In 1997, during a storm, nearly 4.8 million Lego pieces were dumped into the ocean from a Tokio Container ship. They apparently travel well, washing up mainly in Cornwall, England, but some pieces have made it as far as Texas and Australia. While it is possible that the pieces found around the world could be Legos left by children, they matched the nautical sets that fell overboard.
Legos On A Massive Scale
In 2013, the largest model was created of 5 million blocks: a 1:1 scale model of an F-wing fighter. There have been other large designs: a 2.5 mile long railroad and an 112 foot tower.
In 2009, James May of Top Gear built a functional house made entirely of Lego, even featuring a fully functional flush toilet. Unfortunately, he built it on a vineyard and was not able to raise the money to move it to a Legoland amusement park and the house was demolished days after construction was finished. After the demolition, the pieces were donated to children’s charities.
In 1998, daily operations were handed over to a turn around specialist, who didn’t have a background in toys. In 2003, LEGO was on the verge of bankruptcy and had made a few bad decisions. They had introduced the Jack Stone figure, which stood a brick and a half taller than the minifigure and didn’t fit with the other pieces. They had created a television series that was a failure, Galidor, continued opening Legoland theme parks even though they didn’t have a background in hospitality, and an expensive venture called Lego Digital Designer which allowed customers to design custom sets and then the company would ship the custom sets. This venture lacked any appeal and failed. In 2001, they hired Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, a father of four who became CEO within three years. He managed to revitalize Lego.
In the early 2000s, Lego entered into the adult market, producing more expensive sets designed for adults. Some of those sets cost quite a bit.
They Become More Eco-friendly
In 2018, Lego made the first bricks from plant-based materials in the shape of plants. Their goal is to use sustainable materials to make most of their products and packaging by 2030. This includes the use of recycled materials and sugarcane plastic (which is still not biodegradable). It recently released its largest ideas set yet: a treehouse made of the sugarcane plastic. It has 3,036 pieces.
Now, each year in September, around 50 Lego employees head to Spain for a week for Future Lab, During the retreat, they work on new innovations for Lego.
Some Unusual Legos
They have produced employee exclusives, such as the solid gold 14K brick. They also created an electric Lego set; the Lego Grand Carousel spins and plays melodies via electricity when fully assembled.
Beyond The Brick
There are six Legoland amusement parks, Lego movies, and Lego games. There are even Lego competitions.
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