We grew up with the familiar blocks that gave our imagination room to soar; building towers and castles and wagons with little people. Generation after generation have been entranced by this easy yet intricate toy that lets children and adults both create anything and everything. But with over 200 millions sets being sold a year in over 100 countries, the question remains - where did Lego actually come from?
Our story begins in 1932 where Ole Kirk Christiansen, master carpenter and joiner, establishes a small business in the village of Billund in Denmark. His company manufactures stepladders, ironing boards... and wooden toys.
In 1934 the company adopts the name LEGO for their products, formed from the Danish words "LEg GOdt" or "play well". Later on it's realized that in Latin the word means "I study" or "I put together"; an ironic coincidence that follows the toy through the decades.
The small firm of only a dozen employees continues to turn out the popular toy - but in 1942 a tragedy strikes - the entire LEGO factory burns to the ground. Unwilling to give in, the factory is rebuilt and the assembly line restarts soon thereafter.
Not too long after that in 1947 the LEGO company is the first in Denmark to buy a plastic injection-moulding machine for making toys, running ahead of the competition and setting itself up as an enterprise dedicated to the toy business.
At this point there are no LEGO bricks as we know them today - the factory produced approximately 200 different varieties of plastic and wooden toys - but the predecessor of the familiar brick was created under the name of Automatic Binding Bricks; available only in Denmark at this time.
In 1950 Godtfred Kirk Christiansen - son of the original founder of LEGO, Ole Kirk Christiansen - is appointed Junior Vice President. He has worked with the company from the beginning, leaping into the factory at the tender age of 12 and quickly learning the business from the ground floor up.
By 1951 plastic toys account for half of the company's orders, signaling the subtle shift from the familiar wooden toys to the new and more popular plastic. Because of this the Automatic Binding Bricks are renamed "LEGO Mursten" or "LEGO Bricks" - the familiar term we all know them by today. Eventually the "LEGO System of Play" is released, 28 sets and 8 vehicles with extra parts available. It signaled a revolution in the toy world; allowing the owner to expand and create without a strict set of guidelines to follow.
After a few years the actual stud and tube coupling system the toy uses is patented; this new advancement making the models more stable and safer. More and more variations of bricks are released, letting youngsters build more and more creative interpretations of their imaginations.
In 1958 Ole Kirk Christiansen dies and Godtfred Kirk Christiansen becomes head of the company. Later on in 1950 the original wooden toy warehouse is destroyed in a horrible fire with the resulting decision to discontinue all wooden toy production and to focus only on the plastic creations that are quickly becoming more and more popular around the world. LEGO remains a family business to the present, with grandson Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen currently at the helm.
As the years go on more and more developments add to the versatility and strength of the LEGO block. Cellulose acetate is replaced by acrylonitrile butadeine stryrene in 1963 - making the new bricks brighter with better color quality and stronger for a longer life in toy boxes everywhere. Millions of LEGOs are being produced now, with trains and wheels jumping into the market and into toy stores everywhere.
In 1967 LEGO released the DUPLO brand - a larger version of the familiar block but for children under five years old. In 1969 it is released internationally and takes off like a rocket as parents everywhere take advantage of the opportunity to let their children play with the safe and creative toys. In the next twenty years LEGO will move into the realm of robotic models and small, movable people to classic car designs aimed at the adult modeler.
Suddenly LEGO sets are everywhere, from Star Wars to workable robots to Ninjas and Western themes; one generation passing to another the variety and imagination of this popular toy. Entire theme parks exhibit vast recreations to the public, while computer programs exist to play with your own set of virtual LEGOs and create in cyberspace.
From the first generation of plastic bricks to the current virtual world and the rapid advancements of the LEGO creators the world has been enthralled with this simple but enchanting toy - the next decade will only bring more and more models and more and more children running for their toy boxes to create their own world with LEGO.