September 19, 2020
LEGO: A History of the Toy Brick That Changed the World
If not for a series of toy factory fires, instead of having LEGOs, we would have had a small wooden toy business that most likely would have gone underwater in ten years. It all began when Ole Kirk Christiansen began selling wooden toys door to door in a woodworking shop that also “helped construct houses and furniture and had a small staff of apprentices.” Eventually, his company grew and he developed the first LEGO bricks. He continued to sell them, and after multiple warehouse fires, Christiansen’s company, based on the Danish words “leg godt (play well)” finally got back on track. Even though LEGO has successfully operated for over 85 years, it has had its fair share of challenges and obstacles to overcome.
In the beginning, what would soon be LEGO was one simple man with a small furniture company that only sold three items—ladders, stools, and ironing boards. Because of his love for whittling, Ole Kirk Christiansen, the founder of LEGO, started this company in 1916 Billund, Denmark. Billund “was an obscure village, and Christiansen was just a simple carpenter with ambition” (Blakemore, the Disastrous Backstory Behind LEGO). In time, Christiansen began working with his son, Godfredt. Godfredt had the idea of selling the products door to door. And, though most of the customers would pay for the items with food or goods instead of money, Godfredt and his father got enough income to make a living. Disaster struck in 1924 when the Christiansens’ factory burned down due to one of his other sons accidentally setting fire to a pile of wood chips. (The Disastrous Backstory of LEGO) Things were looking down for Christiansen, but luckily, he was about to stumble upon something huge .
Christiansen, instead of calling it quits, used the opportunity to build an even larger workshop. But Chistiansen’s bad luck was nowhere near to its end: just five years later in 1929, the stock market crashed and his wife died in 1932. Due to the financial disaster, Christiansen had to lay off most of his workers and struggled to make ends meet. At one point, Christiansen began to develop inexpensive toys, in the hopes that they might sell better. Christiansen’s “love of toys pushed the company ahead, even when it limped” and he gave the company a name: LEGO, which is a combination of the Danish phrase “leg godt,” or, “play well.” But in 1942, another fire burned down the second workshop, leaving manufacturers to look into riskier ideas. One of these was Denmark’s first plastic molding machine, which was used to make the first LEGO bricks. Though Christiansen and Godfredt were anxiousat first to use the machine, fearing customers would not buy toys made from cheap plastic materials, the product soon blossomed into one of the most popular toys around Denmark, and soon, the world.
The plastic “Automatic Binding Bricks,” as they were first called, looked a lot like LEGO bricks do today—with one big exception: on the underside of the bricks were hollow instead of having tubes on the bottom that help to hold the connected bricks in place, like they do now. They first came in the two-by-four size, in simple colors like red and blue, until they branched out and developed more bricks in different shapes and sizes. But there remain some questions of the originality LEGO idea. “The toy was inspired by a set of self-locking bricks invented by a British company, Kiddicraft.” (Blakemore, the Disastrous Backstory Behind LEGO) The company had been founded by Hilary Page, who was the “first to apply child psychology to toy design.” (The Automatic Binding Brick) LEGO first stated that Kiddicraft gave them the okay to copy their style of interlocking bricks, but in 1981 LEGO bought the rights to Kiddicraft. In 1958, Christiansen died and handed over the mantle of president of the LEGO company to his son, Godtfred. Even now, in the 2020’s LEGO is still a thriving, multi-billion dollar corporation.
If not for the Christiansens’ persistent nature, the international sensation that is the LEGO toy would not be the go-to for children around the globe today. They persevered through multiple factory fires, near bankruptcy, and family tragedy to get where they are now. More than 70 years after the LEGO brick came into creation, it is still one of the most popular toys on the planet. In 2003, LEGO developed video games, movies, and over a thousand more sets that put Billund back on the map, and it’s still innovating and persevering. LEGO is an incredibly popular toy with so many children, and if it were any other family besides Ole Kirk Christiansen’s, LEGO might not be here today.
“The Automatic Binding Brick.” Technica – 1949, web.archive.org/web/20120210163842/isodomos.com/technica/history/1940/1949.php.
Blakemore, Erin. “The Disastrous Backstory Behind the Invention of LEGO Bricks.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 Sept. 2017, www.history.com/news/the-disastrous-backstory-behind-the-invention-of-lego-bricks.
“The Early History of LEGO.” Mental Floss, 20 Aug. 2008, www.mentalfloss.com/article/19400/early-history-lego.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. “The History of LEGO – Everyone’s Favorite Building Blocks.” ThoughtCo, www.thoughtco.com/lego-toy-bricks-first-introduced-1779349.