Whether you are young, old, or a time traveling Vulcan, something unites all of us globally: the innocent LEGO blocks that encourage creativity over spoon-fed entertainment. Have you noticed the excess of zombified children and adults alike drooling over their collective screens lately? Back in the ancient times, all a child needed to create hours of joy were plastic interlocking bricks and a place for their parents to trip over them. The LEGO Group harbored the inspiration of our childhood inventiveness, and none of it would have been possible without the founder, Ole Kirk Kristiansen (or Christiansen). The humble carpenter from Denmark forever made his mark on the little Scandinavian country, one brick at a time.
Well, maybe not at first. You see the plastic LEGO bricks we all know and love were initially made of wood. And they were also not actually bricks.
The year was 1932 and the Great Depression was taking its toll on the majority of the world’s inhabitants. After losing his job, Ole Kirk did what any sane man would in his situation — he began his wooden toy business. Initially, his venture was having a hard time making money, as one might expect due to the unfortunate circumstances. Keeping cost efficient designs in mind, he focused his efforts on simple wooden blocks, ducks, and tractors.
Then, things took a turn for the better and Denmark’s economy slowly but surely bounced back. The children loved Kristiansen’s wooden toys so much that his business started to prosper. Then his son, Godtfred, joined the company. Several wood factory fires later, they acquired a plastic injection molding machine to open up new materials options in 1947. It was a few years after this that we saw the inevitable system begin to take place. The LEGO system entails perfectly sized and shaped blocks that all fit together to create an ideal world. The system is still very much active in the LEGO design, and it will continue to be until the end of time. However, the end of Ole Kirk’s time came too soon. What he left behind for his son was the beginnings of a toy empire.
It’s Patent Time
Initially, the plastic LEGO blocks that came out were not interlocking. Can you imagine LEGO blocks today not snapping together? There would never be the issue of the tiny flat pieces snapping together for eternity. Alas, it was figured out rather quickly that they needed to engineer a more sturdy design so that the block creations would not be destroyed by siblings so easily. In 1958, the same year that the father of LEGO ended up dying, they submitted the patent for an interlocking plastic LEGO block. Three years later it was approved, and they had lift-off. Fast forward three more years, and manuals started showing up in LEGO kits. The kits were becoming progressively more complicated, to the point that children would have a harder time figuring out how to build the bloody thing without the manual. This increase in difficulty for specific kits perhaps increased the enjoyment once the kit was complete; as we all know, the harder it is to do something, the more satisfying it is when you do it. The addition of the interlocking feature in the bricks truly was the turning point for the toy.
In the early 70’s, Godtfred’s son, Kjeld, joined the family business. He created a research and development center that was essential to updating the LEGO kits as time went on. The designs of the kits kept evolving, and research showed that additional parts needed to be created to bring the sets to life even more. The next revolutionary addition to the LEGO toys was the minifigure, shown to the left. These adorable smiling figures truly brought the LEGO scenes to life, which is the whole point of this company.
Syntax and Semantics
As I am sure most LEGO buffs already know, the word “LEGO” comes from the Danish words leg and godt, literally meaning “play well”. This phrase encapsulates the company almost as much as their official slogan, det bedste er ikke for godt, or “only the best is the best”. But how does it work, anyway? Is it LEGO? Legos? Eggo? The grammatical confusion of how to properly write the word LEGO — both singular and plural — has frustrated a surprising amount of people. It seems that the LEGO authorities want the form of the adjective to always be singular and capitalized. Lots of American citizens, on the other hand, seem to enjoy practicing their freedom of English speech and use a plural form of the word un-capitalized. The fight on how to display the word seems to be never-ending, for some reason. Maybe it’s just because people like to argue for the sake of arguing (we’re looking at you, commenters).
The Key to Surviving as a Billion Dollar Toy Empire
LEGO has a way of catering to its customers. If you don’t have the 4016 piece LEGO Death Star proudly assembled on your coffee table right now, then can you really call yourself a true Star Wars fan? One of the many reasons that the LEGO Group was — and still is — so successful is because they knew how to evolve when times changed. Their core beginnings were very simple, but as the toy business grew more complex, so did their marketing strategies. How many of you have a LEGO Millennium Falcon sitting at home? A LEGO Indiana Jones Temple Escape set? What about the LEGO Ghostbusters Firehouse Headquarters? I am willing to bet that at least one of our readers has each of these. Let me know in the comments if I’m wrong. Alternatively, are there any antique LEGO Space Shuttles out there? A classic castle set, perhaps? These are two of the most iconic LEGO sets ever created, and the company admits to often going back to these bread and butter kits for stability. The LEGO Group does a very good job of integrating both of these components into their model to ensure that the company will continue on while being able to take risks.
The 1998 LEGO Mindstorms series is the best-selling LEGO line of all time. Instead of selling to kids, the majority of buyers for this specific product were PhD students and professional coders that wanted to mess with them, at least at first. However as time has progressed, this has been an invaluable learning tool for students and adults alike. Homebrew interfaces and designs were created, physical modifications were made, and bricks were “bricked”. We featured an article earlier about a LEGO exoskeleton controlling a robot that uses a LEGO Mindstorms NXT system. Before that even, the FIRST LEGO League was created. It draws students in to hack the Mindstorms and get more comfortable with hardware/software in general. Learning about robotics/computer science for the first time can be daunting, but it’s a lot easier when working with something you’re comfortable with. Who isn’t comfortable with LEGO?
The LEGO Group has effectively made its presence known to all the far reaches of the world, but none of that would have been possible without the ingenuity and sincerity of Kjeld, his father Godtfred, and his father’s father Ole Kirk Kristiansen. Their goal of giving every child the opportunity to have a meaningful playtime is being achieved everyday by the company that they built from the ground up.
Now, sit back and get nostalgic about the good ole days with this compilation of the classic Space LEGO toys: