On 28th January 1958, the very first Lego brick was made in the small town of Billund, Denmark by Godtfred Kirk Christansen. He had first designed his interlocking brick in 1949. Sixty years on, and Lego is still one of the most popular children’s toys worldwide.
Prior to being officially patented, the bricks were called Automatic Binding Bricks. After that the shorter name of Lego was adopted. It comes from the Danish words ‘Leg Godt’, meaning ‘play well.’
Lego’s bright colours and never-ending building possibilities quickly made it popular. By the 1960s there were 218 different pieces on the market, with each available in a number of different colours. Such was the demand to build specific models that in the late 60’s construction manuals for different designs such as cars, boats and houses were added to the boxes. In the 1970’s the sets expanded further still, with the addition of miniature figures with moveable arms and legs.
To mark its 60th anniversary, Lego visited the first British store to sell their iconic building blocks, Osborne’s Sports & Toys in Rushden, Northamptonshire. They covered the shop front with 277,500 plastic bricks. Measuring nearly 14ft tall and 50ft wide, the temporary Lego shop exterior took more than 600 hours to build.
In conversation with the ‘Trusted Reviews’ website, Jonathan Robson, a Lego designer who works across its Creator and Classic Ranges, said of Lego’s enduring appeal, “The principles of the design of Lego haven’t changed. It’s still putting bricks together. We’ve developed the model and experience in that time, and grown what we’ve made – many different types of play experiences – but the principles within the design as a toy haven’t changed. You can use those old bricks with the new bricks and build that model that you’ve always wanted to build.” He also noted that, “If you built a column of about 40 billion Lego bricks, it would reach the moon!”
And in terms of quantity today, In 2012 alone, 45.7 billion Lego bricks were produced, at a rate of 5.2 million per hour. It is believed that currently, on average, every person in the world owns a minimum of 94 Lego bricks!
When considering the attraction of Lego in 2016, The Telegraph newspaper agreed that the appeal of the product lies in the fact that the potential to build something is never-ending. At the opening of Lego’s London office in 2016, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp said, “Lego is a lot more than a toy – it’s a creative expression. We see a lot of adults hugely engaged with it. With Lego you can make the most amazing things — things you’d never imagine… And people continue to surprise us with their creations…”
Today in Billund, where it was invented, over 4,000 staff are employed in the production of Lego. As you might perhaps expect, Billund is also the home of the very first Legoland theme park. The number of theme parks has grown in recent years, all across the world, including one at Windsor in England. Lego has also managed to expand its brand further, into an increasingly competitive market place, by forming tie-ins with other big franchises, such as Star Wars, Batman, and Harry Potter. These partnerships, in turn, have even seen Lego enjoying success at the cinema.
In an age of high technology, when a computer game is only ever an arm’s reach away (it may also be pointed out that Lego has been hugely successful in this medium, with it arguably even being the trigger for a resurgence in the original product’s popularity), the Lego brick continues to absorb both children and adults alike. With its endless opportunities to engage our imaginations, and make – literally- anything. The perfect combination of constructive fun, Lego’s little coloured blocks have not only endured, but survived and thrived.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.