In 1932, in the little village of Billund, Denmark, there lived one Ole Kirk Christiansen, a master carpenter and joiner. His fledgeling company made stepladders, ironing boards, and you guessed it, wooden toys.
His son Godtfred soon joined up, and in 1934, their company took the ‘Lego’ name, formed from the Danish words “Leg Godt”, which means “play well”.
After World War II, plastic became available, and the Danish company began to make their toys in both wood and plastic.
By 1949, the company was producing two hundred different toys, including ‘Automatic Binding Bricks’, the precursor to Lego bricks as we know them today. The first sets were introduced in 1955, a part of the ‘Lego Systems of Play’ line.
Godtfred, the company’s resident brick-player, worked out the Lego-exclusive stud and tube coupling system (the way the bricks hold together, for you patent patois laymen), and it was patented in 1958. Since the Lego models were sturdier now, the sky was the limit for new model designs.
Lego first appeared in the UK in 1960 at the Brighton Toy Fair and was distributed in the USA in 1961 by Samsonite.
Buildings and structures led to trains and cars, but once Lego figures were introduced in 1974, the structures and modes of transportation were humanised.
Now, there were endless little worlds to create and inhabit with the Lego population: castles, pirate ships, Wild West ranches, cavalry forts and space stations.
The toys could also provide a kid with his or her very own career counselling – try playing with the figures and accoutrements of a policeman, an athlete, an astronaut or a cowboy, and see which strikes your vocational fancy best.
Today, the company is still family-owned, run by Kirk’s grandson, Kjeld Krik Kristiansen.
Lego is sold in over a hundred countries, and the seemingly endless product line ranges from Duplo preschool toys (introduced in 1967) to Lego basics to Lego Technic sets to Lego Mindstorms, which let a player design and program real robots.
There are three Lego theme parks – in Denmark, England, and San Diego, California. Over 300 million children have owned Lego sets, and right now as you read this, over 68 million people, kids and grown kids alike, have those plastic pieces either in their clutches or in their toy chests or a plastic bucket or unevenly distributed throughout the carpet and lawn.