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LEGO – Before They Were Famous

Before They Were Famous

LEGO – Before They Were Famous

Before a family toy company in Denmark stopped producing high-quality wooden toys to focus on their plastic brick toy system.

Before stepping on a lego brick would make you scream.

Before the Space Shuttle Endeavor brought 13 lego kits to the International Space Station to test how they would react in microgravity.

Before a 5 million-brick life-sized model of an x-wing fighter became the largest ever and was put on display in New York in May of 2012.

Before there was ever a LEGOland, a series of LEGO video games, board games and books, or a LEGO movie.

The Lego company traces its roots back to Danish carpenter called Ole Kirk Christiansen, who began making wooded toys in the early 1930s. Over the next few decades, he and his son, Godtfred would turn the humble toy workshop into the largest toy company in the world—now valued at over $14.6 billion, with almost 14,000 employees and annual revenues surpassing $5 billion. While Kjeld Kristiansen, the founder’s grandson, is now the richest man in Denmark, his family’s road to success, well, it had its fair share of bumps along the way.

The LEGO group began in 1932 in Billund, Demark, when a carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys in his workshop. He had originally bought the shop back in 1916, although it had later burned down in 1924, forcing Ole to rebuild. But that was only the first of many fires the Lego company would experience.

Ole’s original workshop didn’t make toys. It mainly shaped wood pieces needed to construct houses and furniture. But after the great depression hit in the early 1930s, business wasn’t exactly booming, so Ole needed to think smaller. He began to produce wooden toys: cars and trucks, piggy banks, and “pull toys”.

During these years, Ole relied heavily on the help of his son, Godtfred for help in the workshop and running the business. 

With his business back on track, Ole decided it was time to name his company. The name “Lego” was a contraction of the Danish phrase “leg godt”, which means “play well”. Although he didn’t know it at the time “Lego” is also latin for “I assemble”.

But it wouldn’t be until just after World War II that the Lego company began to produce their signature bricks. The colourful plastic blocks had nodules at the top, allowing them to interlock.

But Lego was by no means the first company to produce its plastic automatic binding bricks. Ole had been “inspired” by the Kiddicraft Companie’s self-locking bricks developed earlier, in 1947. In fact, he was so inspired that the bricks were virtually identical. And even before the Kiddiecraft Bricks, there were the plastic American bricks launched  in 1946, Kiddicraft’s larger wooden self-locking bricks from 1939, Amercian Bricks made of compressed wood from the same year, and before those, rubber interlocking bricks from companies like MiniBrix and Bild-O-Brik, stretching all the way back to 1934.


During the 1950s, the Lego company was doing so well that Ole and Godtfred focus on expansion: expanding from their humble workshop into a modern toy factory.

In 1954, Godtfred travelled to England and met a purchasing agent on a ferry. While talking toys, the agent tells him that he thinks toys lack idea and system. This idea stuck with Godtfred, and the next year LEGO introduced its System of Play: a new play platform emphasizing the importance of learning through play.

The same year, LEGO began exporting their toys internationally. First to Sweden, but soon, they would be found all over the world.

Godtfred then set out to improve the lego bricks themselves. Adding cylinders to the inside of bricks allowed them to hold together more firmly, paving the way for bigger, more elaborate Lego constructions.

The biggest thing ever made out of Lego is a life-sized model of an x-wing, designed to look just like the one you an build from the ordinary Lego Star Wars set. This thing took 32 master builders and over 5,000,000 Lego bricks to make. It’s 11 feet high, 43 feet long, and weighs over 45,000 pounds!

While Godtfred created the new bricks in 1958, Ole died, leaving the company solely in the hands of Godtfred. Under Godtfred’s leadership, Lego discontinued it wooden toys to focus solely on the plastic bricks, expanded sales considerably and opened the first Legoland theme park in 1968. In 1969, they added the Duplo bricks: extra large for younger kids, an idea they took, once again, from Kiddiekraft.

Finally, in 1994, Godtfred passed the LEGO torch down to the third generation, naming his son, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen CEO of the Lego Group.

And the rest of the story, well you know the story because this is before they were famous.

 





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