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The Disastrous Backstory Behind the Invention of LEGO Bricks

The Disastrous Backstory Behind the Invention of LEGO Bricks


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When it comes to all things Danish, modern furniture, beer and pastries stand out, but arguably the country’s most famous export are tiny toy bricks. In 2016 alone, over 75 billion of the colorful plastic bricks were sold, and the 85-year-old company behind them reigns as one of the world’s most iconic toy manufacturers. But if it weren’t for a series of fires—and an ingenious woodworker—LEGOS may never have been built.

The LEGO story started in a Danish woodworking shop in the days before electricity. At the time, Billund was an obscure village, and Ole Kirk Christiansen was just a simple carpenter with ambition. As a young man, Christiansen turned his love of whittling and playing with wood into a business and, in 1916, he opened his own shop.

At first, Christiansen’s shop produced furniture like ladders, stools and ironing boards. But in 1924, just as he was looking to expand his successful business, his sons accidentally set a pile of wood chips in the shop on fire. The flames it produced destroyed the entire building—and the family’s home.

Others might have given up with a total loss, but Christiansen saw the fire as an excuse to simply build a larger workshop. Tragedy continued to strike, however. In 1929, the American stock market crash plunged the world into depression, and Christiansen’s wife died in 1932. Bowed by personal and financial disaster, Christiansen laid off much of his staff and struggled to make ends meet.

Little did he know that those tragedies would lay the foundation for one of business’s great comeback stories. Since times were so hard, Christiansen made the hard decision to use his wood to create inexpensive goods that might actually sell. Among them were cheap toys.
The decision didn’t pay off—at first. Christiansen actually slid into bankruptcy, but refused to stop making toys when his siblings tried to make it a condition of a bailout loan. But his love of toys pushed the company ahead, even when it limped. He even renamed the company to reflect its new direction: leg godt, or “play well,” became LEGO.

Christiansen may have been a good ironing-board builder, but it turned out he was a brilliant toymaker. He refused to cut corners for the toys his company produced. Soon, his prototypes for ingenious models of cars and animals and his adorable pull toys gained a national fanbase. His bestseller, a wooden duck whose beak opens and closes when pulled, is now a coveted collectible.

In 1942, as Germany occupied Denmark, another fire threatened Christiansen’s livelihood when his entire factory once again burned to the ground. But by then, he was established enough to not only bounce back, but to be forward looking. When World War II ended, many traditional manufacturing products used to produce consumer goods simply weren’t available. As a result, many manufacturers looked to advances in plastics to create cheap alternatives.

Among them: plastic-injection molding, in which melted plastic is forced into the cavity of a precise mold. However, due to materials shortages the Danish government forbade its commercial use until 1947. Despite the ban, Christiansen bought Denmark’s first plastic-injection molding machine in 1946 and began to experiment with it for his toys. In 1947, he was finally allowed to use it for goods he could sell—and by 1949, the company was creating a plastic product called the Automatic Binding Brick.

The toy looks a lot like a modern LEGO brick, and according to LEGO the fact that its name was English, not Danish, was an homage to the Allied forces that liberated Denmark and put an end to World War II. The toy was inspired by a set of self-locking bricks invented by a British company, Kiddicraft. (LEGO says Kiddicraft told the company it was fine to use the design, but in 1981 they formally bought the rights to Kiddicraft bricks from their inventor’s descendants.)

Christensen and his son, Godtfred, made improvements on the British design and began selling plastic bricks in 1949. Though they were not LEGO’s most popular toys, they became more and more popular as the years passed.

Ole Kirk died in 1958, just as his son was on the verge of using the simple Automatic Binding Bricks as the basis of a full-blown “System of Play.” Designed on the principle that all blocks should interlock and be interrelated—and increase both the imaginative potential of kids and sales—the system became the foundation of modern-day LEGO. That means that any LEGO block produced since 1955 can interlock with any other.

Just five years after launching its System of Play, LEGO sustained a third catastrophic fire. Like the first, this blaze sealed the company’s fate: Since the fire burned up all of the company’s wooden toy inventory, the company decided to ditch wood for good and move ahead with plastic.

Today, that decision means big business. Billund, Ole Kirk’s unknown town, is a tourist destination, and the LEGO Group has built itself into an industry titan. But it never would have happened without those simple bricks—or the fires that nearly destroyed a family’s dream three times over.


The LEGO Group History

The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. It’s our name and it’s our ideal.

The LEGO Group was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen. The company has passed from father to son and is now owned by Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, a grandchild of the founder.

It has come a long way over the past almost 85 years - from a small carpenter’s workshop to a modern, global enterprise that is now one of the world’s largest manufacturers of toys.

The LEGO brick is our most important product. We are proud to have been named “Toy of the Century” twice. Our products have undergone extensive development over the years – but the foundation remains the traditional LEGO brick.

The brick in its present form was launched in 1958. The interlocking principle with its tubes makes it unique and offers unlimited building possibilities. It&rsquos just a matter of getting the imagination going – and letting a wealth of creative ideas emerge through play.


Beginnings

The company that makes these famous interlocking bricks started as a small shop in Billund, Denmark. The company was established in 1932 by master carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, who was aided by his 12-year-old son Godtfred Kirk Christiansen. It made wooden toys, stepladders, and ironing boards. It wasn't until two years later that the business took the name of Lego, which came from the Danish words "LEg GOdt," meaning "play well."

Over the next several years, the company grew exponentially. From just a handful of employees in the early years, Lego had grown to 50 employees by 1948. The product line had grown as well, with the addition of a Lego duck, clothes hangers, a Numskull Jack on the goat, a plastic ball for babies, and some wooden blocks.

In 1947, the company made a huge purchase that was to transform the company and make it world-famous and a household name. In that year, Lego bought a plastic injection-molding machine, which could mass produce plastic toys. By 1949, Lego was using this machine to produce about 200 different kinds of toys, which included automatic binding bricks, a plastic fish and a plastic sailor. The automatic binding bricks were the predecessors of the Lego toys of today.


The Disastrous Backstory Behind the Invention of LEGO Bricks

SGT (Join to see)

On January 28, 1958, the Lego company patented their design of Lego bricks which is still compatible with bricks produced today. From the article:

"The Disastrous Backstory Behind the Invention of LEGO Bricks
When it comes to all things Danish, modern furniture, beer and pastries stand out, but arguably the country’s most famous export are tiny toy bricks. In 2016 alone, over 75 billion of the colorful plastic bricks were sold, and the 85-year-old company behind them reigns as one of the world’s most iconic toy manufacturers. But if it weren’t for a series of fires—and an ingenious woodworker—LEGOS may never have been built.

The LEGO story started in a Danish woodworking shop in the days before electricity. At the time, Billund was an obscure village, and Ole Kirk Christiansen was just a simple carpenter with ambition. As a young man, Christiansen turned his love of whittling and playing with wood into a business and, in 1916, he opened his own shop.

At first, Christiansen’s shop produced furniture like ladders, stools and ironing boards. But in 1924, just as he was looking to expand his successful business, his sons accidentally set a pile of wood chips in the shop on fire. The flames it produced destroyed the entire building—and the family’s home.

Inside the original Lego workshop when it was producing wooden toys. (Credit: Lego/Handout/Corbis via Getty Images)
Inside the original Lego workshop when it was producing wooden toys. (Credit: Lego/Handout/Corbis via Getty Images)
Others might have given up with a total loss, but Christiansen saw the fire as an excuse to simply build a larger workshop. Tragedy continued to strike, however. In 1929, the American stock market crash plunged the world into depression, and Christiansen’s wife died in 1932. Bowed by personal and financial disaster, Christiansen laid off much of his staff and struggled to make ends meet.

Little did he know that those tragedies would lay the foundation for one of business’s great comeback stories. Since times were so hard, Christiansen made the hard decision to use his wood to create inexpensive goods that might actually sell. Among them were cheap toys.
The decision didn’t pay off—at first. Christiansen actually slid into bankruptcy, but refused to stop making toys when his siblings tried to make it a condition of a bailout loan. But his love of toys pushed the company ahead, even when it limped. He even renamed the company to reflect its new direction: leg godt, or “play well,” became LEGO.

Christiansen may have been a good ironing-board builder, but it turned out he was a brilliant toymaker. He refused to cut corners for the toys his company produced. Soon, his prototypes for ingenious models of cars and animals and his adorable pull toys gained a national fanbase. His bestseller, a wooden duck whose beak opens and closes when pulled, is now a coveted collectible.

Wooden toys produced by Ole Kirk Christiansen's company. (Credit: Lego/Handout/Corbis via Getty Images)
Wooden toys produced by Ole Kirk Christiansen’s company. (Credit: Lego/Handout/Corbis via Getty Images)
In 1942, as Germany occupied Denmark, another fire threatened Christiansen’s livelihood when his entire factory once again burned to the ground. But by then, he was established enough to not only bounce back, but to be forward looking. When World War II ended, many traditional manufacturing products used to produce consumer goods simply weren’t available. As a result, many manufacturers looked to advances in plastics to create cheap alternatives.

Among them: plastic-injection molding, in which melted plastic is forced into the cavity of a precise mold. However, due to materials shortages the Danish government forbade its commercial use until 1947. Despite the ban, Christiansen bought Denmark’s first plastic-injection molding machine in 1946 and began to experiment with it for his toys. In 1947, he was finally allowed to use it for goods he could sell—and by 1949, the company was creating a plastic product called the Automatic Binding Brick.

The toy looks a lot like a modern LEGO brick, and according to LEGO the fact that its name was English, not Danish, was an homage to the Allied forces that liberated Denmark and put an end to World War II. The toy was inspired by a set of self-locking bricks invented by a British company, Kiddicraft. (LEGO says Kiddicraft told the company it was fine to use the design, but in 1981 they formally bought the rights to Kiddicraft bricks from their inventor’s descendants.)

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, President of the Lego company in Denmark, explains the Lego building toys to children, 1967. (Credit: PA Images via Getty Images)
Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, President of the Lego company in Denmark, explains the Lego building toys to children, 1967. (Credit: PA Images via Getty Images)
Christensen and his son, Godtfred, made improvements on the British design and began selling plastic bricks in 1949. Though they were not LEGO’s most popular toys, they became more and more popular as the years passed.

Ole Kirk died in 1958, just as his son was on the verge of using the simple Automatic Binding Bricks as the basis of a full-blown “System of Play.” Designed on the principle that all blocks should interlock and be interrelated—and increase both the imaginative potential of kids and sales—the system became the foundation of modern-day LEGO. That means that any LEGO block produced since 1955 can interlock with any other.

Just five years after launching its System of Play, LEGO sustained a third catastrophic fire. Like the first, this blaze sealed the company’s fate: Since the fire burned up all of the company’s wooden toy inventory, the company decided to ditch wood for good and move ahead with plastic.

Today, that decision means big business. Billund, Ole Kirk’s unknown town, is a tourist destination, and the LEGO Group has built itself into an industry titan. But it never would have happened without those simple bricks—or the fires that nearly destroyed a family’s dream three times over."


The Brothers Brick

In addition to the best LEGO models created by builders all over the world, The Brothers Brick also brings you the best of LEGO news and reviews. This is our weekly Brick Report for the fourth week of September 2017.

TBB STAR WARS NEWS: Our in-depth review of the UCS Millennium Falcon is here and you could even win one by entering our contest! Plus check out a new LEGO Star Wars book written by TBB editors.

  • Review of LEGO Star Wars 75192 UCS Millennium Falcon — The new UCS Millennium Falcon includes 7,541 pieces with 10 minifigs, and costs USD 799.99. Read about TBB’s reactions building the largest LEGO set ever made.
  • Ultimate LEGO Star Wars book from DK now available for preorder, authored by TBB editors Chris Malloy and Andrew Becraft — An up-to-date reference that covers the full range of LEGO Star Wars sets and minifigs from the first sets in 1999 to The Force Awakens and Rogue One, the book is due out on October 3, and is available for preorder now. — TBB is hosting a building contest and giving away a UCS Millennium Falcon as well as FOUR elusive Space Slug sets. Get building! The deadline is Oct. 15th.

OTHER TBB NEWS: The LEGO Ninjago Movie is now in theaters and we have our review, a ticket giveaway and some new sets, all for your reading pleasure.

    — The LEGO Ninjago Movie is an entertaining film about daddy issues told in a way that only LEGO can, with the brick at its core—so give this movie a fighting chance.
  • Win free tickets to The LEGO Ninjago Movie — We are giving away 10 pairs of tickets to The LEGO Ninjago Movie, so leave a comment on the giveaway post telling us which of LEGO’s other themes should be made into the next LEGO movie and why.
  • The LEGO Ninjago Movie wave 2 set images revealed — A further four sets have been revealed with official set images, and are due to be released in December.
  • HispaBrick Magazine 028 is out now — Lluís Gibert, Jetro de Château, and the team at HispaBrick Magazine have just released the English edition of Issue 028 as a free download.
  • Instructions to build build a cool cyan-colored cruisin’ Cadillac— Nothing evokes the 60s like a cyan-colored Cadillac — oozing the charm of the era of flower power. Now you can build a piece of nostalgia with this mini Cadillac build by Grantmasters.

Photo credit JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

OTHER LEGO NEWS: This week had quite a few other interesting LEGO-related news articles. Here are the best of the rest.


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The Lego Story: 80 Years of Playing Well

The triumph of the LEGO Group started almost fifteen years after the foundation of the company, when Ole Kirk Christiansen discovered that plastic was the ideal material for toy production. At the end of the 1940s, the first bricks hit the market, which resemble the modern classic of today. In 1958 Christiansen perfected the LEGO brick with the familiar knobs-and-tubes-connecting-system, which is what the now 3120 different LEGO elements are still based on. LEGO bricks can be combined in an endless variety of combinations in continuously new ways. For six bricks of the same color with 2×4 studs alone, there are 915 million combination possibilities. The imagination has therefore no boundaries.

The 17-minute short, narrated by founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen's grandson Kjeld, is dense with LEGO's backstory, yet easy to watch as the animated Christiansen family perseveres through trials and tribulations over the years to build a successful company (IDers might also be interested to see the accurately depicted mid-century machinery).


Contents

The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891–1958), a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. [6] [7] In 1934, his company came to be called "Lego", derived from the Danish phrase leg godt [lɑjˀ ˈgʌd] , [8] [9] which means "play well". [10] In 1947, Lego expanded to begin producing plastic toys. [11] In 1949 Lego began producing, among other new products, an early version of the now familiar interlocking bricks, calling them "Automatic Binding Bricks". These bricks were based on the Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks, which had been patented in the United Kingdom in 1939 [12] and released in 1947. Lego had received a sample of the Kiddicraft bricks from the supplier of an injection-molding machine that it purchased. [13] The bricks, originally manufactured from cellulose acetate, [14] were a development of the traditional stackable wooden blocks of the time. [11]

The Lego Group's motto, "only the best is good enough" [15] (Danish: det bedste er ikke for godt, literally "the best isn't excessively good") was created in 1936. [7] This motto, which is still used today, was created by Christiansen to encourage his employees never to skimp on quality, a value he believed in strongly. [7] By 1951 plastic toys accounted for half of the Lego company's output, even though the Danish trade magazine Legetøjs-Tidende ("Toy Times"), visiting the Lego factory in Billund in the early 1950s, felt that plastic would never be able to replace traditional wooden toys. [16] Although a common sentiment, Lego toys seem to have become a significant exception to the dislike of plastic in children's toys, due in part to the high standards set by Ole Kirk. [17]

By 1954, Christiansen's son, Godtfred, had become the junior managing director of the Lego Group. [16] It was his conversation with an overseas buyer that led to 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 versatile. [3] In 1958, the modern brick design was developed it took five years to find the right material for it, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) polymer. [13] [14] A patent application for the modern Lego brick design was filed in Denmark on 28 January 1958, and in various other countries in the subsequent few years. [18] [19]

The Lego Group's Duplo product line was introduced in 1969 and is a range of simple blocks whose lengths measure twice the width, height, and depth of standard Lego blocks and are aimed towards younger children. [16] [20]

In 1978, Lego produced the first minifigures, which have since become a staple in most sets. [21]

In May 2011, Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-134 brought 13 Lego kits to the International Space Station, where astronauts built models to see how they would react in microgravity, as a part of the Lego Bricks in Space program. [22] [23]

In May 2013, the largest model ever created was displayed in New York City and was made of over 5 million bricks a 1:1 scale model of an X-wing fighter. [24] Other records include a 34-metre (112 ft) tower [25] and a 4 km (2.5 mi) railway. [26] [27]

In February 2015, Lego replaced Ferrari as the "world's most powerful brand." [28] [29] They were at position 378 of Brand Finances global brand ranking. [ citation needed ]

In popular culture

Lego's popularity is demonstrated by its wide representation and usage in many forms of cultural works, including books, films and art work. It has even been used in the classroom as a teaching tool. [30] In the US, Lego Education North America is a joint venture between Pitsco, Inc. and the educational division of the Lego Group. [31]

In 1998, Lego bricks were one of the original inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York. [32]

Lego pieces of all varieties constitute a universal system. Despite variation in the design and the purposes of individual pieces over the years, each piece remains compatible in some way with existing pieces. Lego bricks from 1958 still interlock with those made in the current time, and Lego sets for young children are compatible with those made for teenagers. Six bricks of 2 × 4 studs [33] can be combined in 915,103,765 ways. [34]

Each Lego piece must be manufactured to an exacting degree of precision. When two pieces are engaged they must fit firmly, yet be easily disassembled. The machines that manufacture Lego bricks have tolerances as small as 10 micrometres. [35]

Primary concept and development work takes place at the Billund headquarters, where the company employs approximately 120 designers. The company also has smaller design offices in the UK, Spain, Germany, and Japan which are tasked with developing products aimed specifically at these markets. The average development period for a new product is around twelve months, split into three stages. The first stage is to identify market trends and developments, including contact by the designers directly with the market some are stationed in toy shops close to holidays, while others interview children. The second stage is the design and development of the product based upon the results of the first stage. As of September 2008 the design teams use 3D modelling software to generate CAD drawings from initial design sketches. The designs are then prototyped using an in-house stereolithography machine. These prototypes are presented to the entire project team for comment and for testing by parents and children during the "validation" process. Designs may then be altered in accordance with the results from the focus groups. Virtual models of completed Lego products are built concurrently with the writing of the user instructions. Completed CAD models are also used in the wider organisation, for marketing and packaging. [38]

Lego Digital Designer is an official piece of Lego software for Mac OS X and Windows which allows users to create their own digital Lego designs. [39] The program once allowed customers to order their custom designs [40] with a service to ship physical models from Digital Designer to consumers the service ended in 2012. [41]

Since 1963, Lego pieces have been manufactured from a strong, resilient plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). [14] [35] As of September 2008, Lego engineers use the NX CAD/CAM/CAE PLM software suite to model the elements. The software allows the parts to be optimised by way of mould flow and stress analysis. Prototype moulds are sometimes built before the design is committed to mass production. The ABS plastic is heated to 232 °C (450 °F) until it reaches a dough-like consistency. It is then injected into the moulds using forces of between 25 and 150 tonnes, and takes approximately 15 seconds to cool. The moulds are permitted a tolerance of up to twenty micrometres, to ensure the bricks remain connected. [38] Human inspectors check the output of the moulds, to eliminate significant variations in colour or thickness. According to the Lego Group, about eighteen bricks out of every million fail to meet the standard required. [42] Lego factories recycle all but about 1 percent of their plastic waste from the manufacturing process. If the plastic cannot be re-used in Lego bricks, it is processed and sold on to industries that can make use of it. [43] [44] Lego has a self-imposed 2030 deadline to find a more eco-friendly alternative to the ABS plastic it currently uses in its bricks. [45]

Manufacturing of Lego bricks occurs at several locations around the world. Moulding is done in Billund, Denmark Nyíregyháza, Hungary Monterrey, Mexico and most recently in Jiaxing, China. Brick decorations and packaging are done at plants in Denmark, Hungary, Mexico and Kladno in the Czech Republic. The Lego Group estimates that in five decades it has produced 400 billion Lego blocks. [46] Annual production of Lego bricks averages approximately 36 billion, or about 1140 elements per second. According to an article in BusinessWeek in 2006, Lego could be considered the world's number one tyre manufacturer the factory produces about 306 million small rubber tyres a year. [47] The claim was reiterated in 2012. [48]

In December 2012, the BBC's More or Less radio program asked the Open University's engineering department to determine "how many Lego bricks, stacked one on top of the other, it would take for the weight to destroy the bottom brick?" [49] Using a hydraulic testing machine, the engineering department determined the average maximum force a 2×2 Lego brick can stand is 4,240 newtons since an average 2×2 Lego brick has a mass of 1.152 grams (0.0406 oz), according to their calculations it would take a stack of 375,000 bricks to cause the bottom brick to collapse, which represents a stack 3,591 metres (11,781 ft) in height. [49]

Private tests have shown several thousand assembly-disassembly cycles before the bricks begin to wear out, [50] although Lego tests show fewer cycles. [51]

In 2018, Lego announced that it will be using bio-derived polyethylene to make its botanical elements (parts such as leaves, bushes and trees). [52] In 2020 the company announced that it would cease packaging its products in single-use plastic bags, and would instead be using recyclable paper bags. [53] [54]

Since the 1950s, the Lego Group has released thousands of sets with a variety of themes, including space, robots, pirates, trains, Vikings, castle, dinosaurs, undersea exploration, and wild west. Some of the classic themes that continue to the present day include Lego City (a line of sets depicting city life introduced in 1973) and Lego Technic (a line aimed at emulating complex machinery, introduced in 1977). [55]

Over the years, Lego has licensed themes from numerous cartoon and film franchises and even some from video games. These include Batman, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Minecraft. Although some of the licensed themes, Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones, had highly successful sales, Lego has expressed a desire to rely more upon their own characters and classic themes, and less upon licensed themes related to movie releases. [56] Discontinued sets may become a collectable and command value on the black market. [57]

For the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Lego released a special Team GB Minifigures series exclusively in the United Kingdom to mark the opening of the games. For the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Lego released a kit with the Olympic and Paralympic mascots Vinicius and Tom. [58]

One of the largest Lego sets commercially produced was a minifig-scaled edition of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon. Designed by Jens Kronvold Fredericksen, it was released in 2007 and contained 5,195 pieces. It was surpassed by a 5,922-piece Taj Mahal. A redesigned Millennium Falcon retook the top spot in 2017 with 7,541 pieces. [59]

Robotics themes

Lego also initiated a robotics line of toys called 'Mindstorms' in 1999, and has continued to expand and update this range ever since. The roots of the product originate from a programmable brick developed at the MIT Media Lab, and the name is taken from a paper by Seymour Papert, a computer scientist and educator who developed the educational theory of constructionism, and whose research was at times funded by the Lego Group. [60]

The programmable Lego brick which is at the heart of these robotics sets has undergone several updates and redesigns, with the latest being called the 'EV3' brick, being sold under the name of Lego Mindstorms EV3. The set includes sensors that detect touch, light, sound and ultrasonic waves, with several others being sold separately, including an RFID reader. [61]

The intelligent brick can be programmed using official software available for Windows and Mac computers, and is downloaded onto the brick via Bluetooth or a USB cable. There are also several unofficial programs and compatible programming languages that have been made to work with the brick, and many books have been written to support this community. [61]

There are several robotics competitions which use the Lego robotics sets. The earliest is Botball, a national U.S. middle- and high-school competition stemming from the MIT 6.270 Lego robotics tournament. Other Lego robotics competitions include Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL) for students ages 6–9 and FIRST Lego League (FLL) for students ages 9–16 (age 9–14 in the United States, Canada, and Mexico). Jr.FLL and FLL offer real-world engineering challenges to participants. FLL uses Lego-based robots to complete tasks. Jr.FLL participants build models out of Lego elements. In its 2010 season, there were 16,070 FLL teams in over 55 countries. In its 2010 season, there were 2,147 Jr.FLL teams with 12,882 total student participants in the United States and Canada. The international RoboCup Junior football competition involves extensive use of Lego Mindstorms equipment which is often pushed to its extreme limits. [62]

The capabilities of the Mindstorms range have now been harnessed for use in Iko Creative Prosthetic System, a prosthetic limbs system designed for children. Designs for these Lego prosthetics allow everything from mechanical diggers to laser-firing spaceships to be screwed on to the end of a child's limb. Iko is the work of the Chicago-based Colombian designer Carlos Arturo Torres, and is a modular system that allows children to customise their own prosthetics with the ease of clicking together plastic bricks. Designed with Lego's Future Lab, the Danish toy company's experimental research department, and Cirec, a Colombian foundation for physical rehabilitation, the modular prosthetic incorporates myoelectric sensors that register the activity of the muscle in the stump and send a signal to control movement in the attachment. A processing unit in the body of the prosthetic contains an engine compatible with Lego Mindstorms, the company's robotics line, which lets the wearer build an extensive range of customised, programmable limbs. [63] [64]

The definitive shape of the Lego bricks, with the inner tubes, was patented by the Lego Group in 1958. [18] [65] Several competitors have attempted to take advantage of Lego's popularity by producing blocks of similar dimensions, and advertising them as being compatible with Lego bricks. In 2002, Lego sued the CoCo Toy Company in Beijing for copyright infringement over its "Coko bricks" product. CoCo was ordered to cease manufacture of the products, publish a formal apology and pay damages. [66] Lego sued the English company Best-Lock Construction Toys in German courts in 2004 [67] and 2009 [68] the Federal Patent Court of Germany denied Lego trademark protection for the shape of its bricks for the latter case. [69] In 2005, the Lego Company sued Canadian company Mega Bloks for trademark violation, but the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Mega Bloks' rights to sell their product. [70] In 2010, the European Court of Justice ruled that the eight-peg design of the original Lego brick "merely performs a technical function [and] cannot be registered as a trademark." [71]

In 2020 and 2021 Lego sent cease and desist letters to small toy retailers and popular youtubers in Germany. In 2021 the situation escalated when Lego let a container delivered by clone producer Qman block in the harbor of Bremen for trademark infringement, and to test for contamination with dangerous materials. The recipient toy retailer initiated an appeal for donations to import containers of Lego clones from China to Germany and donate them to children's homes, which received more than €350,000 within a couple of weeks. [72] [73] [74]

Official website

First launched in 1996, the Lego website has developed over the years, and provides many extra services beyond an online store and a product catalogue. There are also moderated message boards that were founded in 2001. [75] The site also includes instruction booklets for all Lego sets dating back to 2002. [76]

The Lego website features a social media app named Lego Life, [77] [78] which is designed for children under 13 years of age. The app is available as a free download and only features Lego-related content. It was designed to be a social network for children to be inspired, create and share their Lego builds, photos and videos with a like-minded community, whilst also providing Lego content in the form of product advertising, images, videos, campaigns and competitions. The app incorporates a variety of child safety features to provide a safe digital environment for children, including the protection of personal information and the heavy moderation of all uploaded user-generated content and communication. [79] [80]

My Lego Network was a social networking site that involved items, blueprints, ranks, badges which were earned for completing certain tasks, trading and trophies called masterpieces which allowed users to progress to go to the next rank. The website had a built-in inbox which allowed users to send pre-written messages to one another. The Lego Network included automated non-player characters within called "Networkers", who were able to do things which normal users could not do, sending custom messages, and selling masterpieces and blueprints. The site also had modules which were set up on the user's page that gave the user items, or that displayed picture compositions. My Lego network closed in 2015.

Before My Lego Network, there were Lego Club Pages, which essentially held the same purpose, although the design lacked complex interaction. [81]

Theme parks

Merlin Entertainments operates eight Legoland amusement parks, the original in Billund, Denmark, the second in Windsor, England, the third in Günzburg, Germany, the fourth in Carlsbad, California, the fifth in Winter Haven, Florida, the sixth in Iskandar Puteri, Malaysia, [82] the seventh in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, [83] and the eighth in Nagoya, Japan. [84] A ninth is planned to open in 2020 in Goshen, New York, United States, [84] and a tenth in 2022 in Shanghai, China. [85] On 13 July 2005, the control of 70% of the Legoland parks was sold for $460 million to the Blackstone Group of New York while the remaining 30% is still held by Lego Group. [86] There are also eight Legoland Discovery Centres, two in Germany, four in the United States, one in Japan and one in the United Kingdom. Two Legoland Discovery Centres opened in 2013: one at the Westchester Ridge Hill shopping complex in Yonkers, New York, and one at the Vaughan Mills in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. Another opened at the Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in 2014. [87]

Retail stores

Lego operates 132 retail shops, called Lego Stores, spread across 20 countries. [88] The U.S. stores include the Downtown Disney shopping complexes at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts as well as in Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The opening of each new store is celebrated with a weekend-long event in which a Master Model Builder creates, with the help of volunteers—most of whom are children—a larger-than-life Lego statue, which is then displayed at the new store for several weeks. [89]

Business consultancy

Since around 2000, the Lego Group has been promoting "Lego Serious Play", a form of business consultancy fostering creative thinking, in which team members build metaphors of their organizational identities and experiences using Lego bricks. Participants work through imaginary scenarios using visual three-dimensional Lego constructions, imaginatively exploring possibilities in a serious form of play. [90]

Video games

Lego branched out into the video game market in 1997 by founding Lego Media International Limited, and Lego Island was released that year by Mindscape. After this Lego released titles such as Lego Creator and Lego Racers.

After Lego closed down their publishing subsidiary, they moved on to a partnership with Traveller's Tales, and went on to make games like Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman, and many more including the very well-received Lego Marvel Super Heroes game, featuring New York City as the overworld and including Marvel characters from the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and more. [91] [92] More recently, Lego has created a game based on The Lego Movie, due to its popularity. [93]

Board games

Lego Games launched in 2009, was a series of Lego-themed board games designed by Cephas Howard and Reiner Knizia [94] [95] in which the players usually build the playing board out of Lego bricks and then play with Lego-style players. Examples of the games include "Minotaurus", in which players roll dice to move characters within a brick-build labyrinth, "Creationary", in which players must build something which appears on a card, or "Ramses Pyramid", in which players collect gems and climb up a customisable pyramid. Like many board games, the games use dice. In Lego Games, the dice are Lego, with Lego squares with symbols on Lego studs on the dice, surrounded by rubber. The games vary from simple to complex some are similar to "traditional" board games, while others are completely different. [96]

Films and television

The first official Lego film was the straight-to-DVD release of Bionicle: Mask of Light in 2003 developed by Creative Capers Entertainment and distributed by Miramax Home Entertainment. Several other straight-to-DVD computer animated Bionicle sequels and Hero Factory movies were produced in the following years. Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers was released on DVD in February 2010, a computer-animated film made by Tinseltown Toons. [97]

The Lego Movie, a feature film based on Lego toys, was released by Warner Bros. in February 2014. [98] It featured Chris Pratt in the lead role, with substantial supporting characters voiced by Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Alison Brie, Will Ferrell and Nick Offerman. [99] A contest was held for contestants to submit designs for vehicles to be used in the film. [100] After the release of The Lego Movie, independent Canadian toy retailers reported issues with shortages of Lego products and cited cancellations of Lego pre-orders without warning [101] as a motive to stock compatible, rival products. [102]

A spin-off of The Lego Movie, entitled The Lego Batman Movie, directed by Chris McKay was released in the US in February 2017. [103]

In June 2013, it was reported that Warner Bros. was developing a feature film adaptation of Lego Ninjago. Brothers Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman were attached to write the adaptation, while Dan Lin and Roy Lee, along with Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were announced as producers. [104] The film, The Lego Ninjago Movie, was released in September 2017. [105] A computer-generated animated series based on Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu began in 2011, and another based on Legends of Chima began in 2013. A television series of Lego City has also been announced. [106]

Books and magazines

Lego has an ongoing deal with publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK), who are producing a series of illustrated hardback books looking at different aspects of the construction toy. The first was The Ultimate Lego Book, published in 1999. More recently, in 2009, the same publisher produced The LEGO Book, which was sold within a slipcase along with Standing Small: A celebration of 30 years of the LEGO minifigure, a smaller book focused on the minifigure. In 2012, a revised edition was published. Also in 2009, DK also published books on Lego Star Wars and a range of Lego-based sticker books. [107]

Although no longer being published in the United States by Scholastic, books covering events in the Bionicle storyline are written by Greg Farshtey. They are still being published in Europe by AMEET. Bionicle comics, also written by Farshtey, are compiled into graphic novels and were released by Papercutz. This series ended in 2009, after nine years. [108]

There is also the Lego Club and Brickmaster magazine, the latter discontinued in 2011. [109]

Clothing

Kabooki, a Danish company founded in 1993, produces children's clothes branded as "Lego Wear" under licence from the Lego Group. [110]

In 2020, Lego announced collaborations with Adidas and Levis. [111]

In 2021, Lego announced collaborations with Justhype and Adidas inspired by Lego Ninjago theme. [112] [113] In May 2021, Lego announced collaborations with Adidas inspired by Lego Vidiyo theme. [114]


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LEGO: A TOY STORY

During the Great Depression, demand for furniture fell off to such an extent that a desperate Billund workshop owner named Ole Kirk Christiansen turned his hand to wooden toymaking instead. He coined the name Lego by combining two Danish words, 'Leg' and 'Godt' - meaning 'play well'. (Only after his death did the firm discover that in Latin Lego also has the meaning 'I put together'.)

The toy business took off properly after World War II, when Ole Kirk spotted the potential of injection-moulded plastic. A salesman had come from Hull to Copenhagen with samples of a new, British-designed product called Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks. Against the advice of all his colleagues, and in the face of indifference from toy buyers, Ole Kirk began manufacturing and pushing a modified version - known initially as Automatic Binding Bricks - until little by little the product caught on.

By the Sixties, sales of Lego were booming, thanks not least to a newly patented version of the brick with a reinforced middle, which meant Lego constructions held together much more firmly. In 1962, the company introduced the wheel to its collection, leading in 1966 to the first Lego train with its own rails and 4.5-volt motor. In the late Sixties, a series of larger bricks for younger children, Duplo, appeared. So too, in 1968, did Lego's first theme park, Legoland in Billund.

The Seventies saw the invention of the Lego Technic series (with beams, gears and gearboxes), enabling older children to build complex working vehicles and machines. They also saw the first minifigures - which, until a policy change in 1989, would only have bright yellow heads (so as to maintain a multiracial appeal) and smiling faces (frowns and grimaces being considered un-Lego). The first black and white heads appeared in 2003.

In the Eighties and Nineties, Lego entered the digital age, launching its first computer-controlled robot kit in 1986 and, in 1997, Lego Mindstorms, which enabled children to create and program intelligent Lego models it also released its first video games, starting with Lego Chess in 1998.

Meanwhile, it launched a product line for young girls, Lego Belville, in 1994, and opened theme parks in Windsor (1996), California (1999) and Gunzburg, Germany (2002).

In 1998, Lego announced its first licensing deal, with Lucasfilm Ltd, giving it the right to develop, manufacture and market a series of sets based on the Star Wars films. These have been extremely successful, as has another recent introduction, Bionicle, a series of robot-like construction toys with their own back stories and personalities. In late 2010, Lego will launch its first massively multiplayer online video game, Lego Universe.


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