Who doesn’t recall the excitement of hours spent as children surrounded by small interconnecting blocks called Lego Bricks building elaborate creations limited only by our imagination.
The story of this famous Danish icon reads like a Hans Christian Andersen fable.
In 1932, master carpenter and joiner Ole Kirk Christiansen, establishes a small business in the village of Billund in Denmark manufacturing stepladders, ironing boards… and wooden toys. By 1934 the company adopts the name Lego for their products, formed from the Danish words “LEg GOdt"(play well). Not too long after the Lego company is the first in Denmark to buy a plastic injection-moulding machine for making toys. In 1948 the Lego “Mursten" (Brick) is born.
Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen (his surname accidentally misspelled on his birth certificate), the grandson of Ole Kirk is now CEO. The house where his father, Godtfred, grew up is now nestled amid the Lego Group’s corporate buildings and the original Legoland theme park (there are now four) sits adjacent.
The basic eight-stud Lego brick hasn’t changed, including the recipe for the plastic used. Almost every office and conference room at Lego HQ still contains a bowl of loose Lego bricks so that people can play during meetings.
What makes Lego bricks unique is that they click together and “lock" so that large structures can be built and still hold together. This design developed over time was so that a child could take a box of Lego bricks and create almost anything without it falling apart or toppling over. Instructions were never included so as to not restrict a child’s limitless imagination.
But anyone who hasn’t looked at Lego bricks since childhood may be in for a shock. Most modern Lego kits are so elaborate that they now come with a folder of step-by-step construction instructions.
To remain competitive Lego has adapted its history and values around simple child play to the technological world of Game Boy, Xbox and Playstation.
In 1999 in partnership with Lucasfilm Ltd. , the company launched Star Wars themed Lego kits which became the biggest sellers in the company’s history. Their success inspired Lego Bionicles - a combination of biological and chronicle, the most elaborate having hundreds of pieces, which in turn inspired a movie.
Lego Mindstorms take it all to the next generation. They let you design and program real robots that do what you want them to. With the Robotics Invention System 2.0™, the core set of the Lego Mindstorms product range, you can create everything from a light-sensitive intruder alarm to a robotic rover that can follow a trail, move around obstacles, and even duck into dark corners.
Lego bricks continue to inspire not only 6 year olds but the child in us all. The web is awash with fan sites containing elaborate plans, sculptures and even films performed by Lego Brick actors.
Not bad for a product that’s sold in pieces, and requires imagination and a child’s touch to turn into into something amazing.
Interesting too that close by is the home of another well known product which leaves the factory in pieces requiring assembly …… IKEA.
Peter Shuttlewood is the author of webzine freshread which contains articles on Popular Culture with an Australian slant. Freshread - the everyday in a fresh way.