The LEGO Company just celebrated its 80th birthday a few days ago. Can you believe that? LEGO has been around for 80 long years!
LEGO put together a nice little video to summarize the long history of the company from its humble beginnings of making wooden toys in a carpenter’s shop, to the revolutionary step of switching to plastic, and gradually developing the famous interlocking LEGO bricks of today.
Watching the video made me appreciate more the amount of sweat and tears that goes into creating a successful product like LEGO. Not one step of LEGO’s history was easy. These days, when we expect instant gratification, and success with little effort, the legacy of Ole Kirk Christiansen is a reminder of the true power and durability of traditional values and old fashioned hard work. At least I like to look at it that way.
It is very tragic that the founder never had the chance to see the tremendous success of the company. However his spirit lives on and continues to guide his descendants to keep to the standard of “only the best is good enough”. Some highlights from the history of the LEGO Company mentioned in the video:
- In 1932 Ole Kirk Christiansen a respected carpenter in Billund, Denmark fell into hard times due to the Great Depression and the loss of his wife. Instead of making furniture and other large items like he used to, he began focusing on small wooden toys such as piggy banks, pull toys, cars and trucks to keep his company afloat. The business was not very profitable, but local farmers traded food for the toys, allowing Ole Kirk to at least feed himself and his four sons.
- In 1934 Ole Kirk was looking for a name for his new toy company. He came up with “LEGO”, a self-made contraction from the Danish phrase “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. Later the LEGO Group discovered that “LEGO” can be loosely interpreted as “I put together” or “I assemble” in Latin. A nice coincidence…
- In 1942 the woodworking shop burned down and Ole Kirk had to rebuild the LEGO factory. Sales gradually picked up again and the company started to do better.
- In 1946 following World War II, plastics became available in Denmark, and LEGO purchased a plastic injection-molding machine, starting to make various plastic toys. Ole Kirk also obtained samples of some interlocking plastic bricks produced by another toy company, Kiddicraft. LEGO began producing similar toy bricks, calling them “Automatic Binding Bricks”. These first LEGO bricks were manufactured from cellulose-acetate, a harder, more rigid plastic. (You can still find these old LEGO bricks on BrickLink and eBay as collector’s items.)
- In 1954 the LEGO System of Play was developed by Ole Kirk’s son Godtfred, introducing the first LEGO Town Plan. This was a huge breakthrough for the company that allowed LEGO to expand to other countries as well. Also, the LEGO bricks were improved with tubes inside for better “stickiness” a.k.a. clutch-power.
- In 1958 Ole Kirk passed away and his son Godtfred inherited leadership of the company. After another fire that destroyed the company’s wooden toy section, Godtfred decided to focus on the LEGO System of Play only. (His brothers started another wooden toy company called Biloflix.)
- In 1963 the material used to create LEGO bricks, cellulose-acetate, was dropped in favor of the more stable acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS plastic), which is still used today. ABS is non-toxic, less prone to discoloration and warping, and is also more resistant to heat, acids, salt, and other chemicals than cellulose-acetate.
- In 1964 Billund airport was opened to allow the LEGO Company to continue expanding their sales to other countries.
- In 1968 the first LEGOLAND opened with 600,000 guests in its first year.
- Today the LEGO Company is run by the third generation of the Christiansen family.
Now the LEGO brand has fans all over the world – both adults who grew up with LEGO bricks and continuing to enjoy the hobby, and new generations of children who are just getting introduced to it. Hopefully the LEGO Company will continue to grow and expand, while maintaining the tradition of excellent quality envisioned and enforced by its founder. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEGO!
Feel free to leave your birthday wishes to LEGO in the comment section below! You might also like to share your own experiences; how you got introduced to LEGO, why do you like the hobby, and where do you hope the company will be by the time it reaches 100!
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