The History of LEGO

Everyone's Favorite Building Blocks Born in 1958

A picture of LEGO toy bricks.
LEGO Toy Bricks. ©2004 The LEGO Group

The small, colorful bricks that encourage a child's imagination with their multitude of building possibilities have spawned two movies and Legoland theme parks. But more than that, these simple building blocks keep children as young as 5 engaged in creating castles, towns and space stations and anything else their creative minds can think of. This is the epitome of the educational toy wrapped up in fun.

These attributes have made LEGO an icon in the toy world.

Beginnings

The company that makes these famous interlocking bricks started as a small shop in Billund, Denmark. The company was established in 1932 by master carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, who was aided by his 12-year-old son Godtfred Kirk Christiansen. It made wooden toys, stepladders and ironing boards. It wasn't until two years later that the business took the name of LEGO, which came from the Danish words "LEg GOdt," meaning "play well."

Over the next several years, the company grew exponentially. From just a handful of employees in the early years, LEGO had grown to 50 employees by 1948. The product line had grown as well, with the addition of a LEGO duck, clothes hangers, a Numskull Jack on the goat, a plastic ball for babies and some wooden blocks.

In 1947, the company made a huge purchase that was to transform the company and make it world-famous and a household name.

In that year, LEGO bought a plastic injection-molding machine, which could mass produce plastic toys. By 1949, LEGO was using this machine to produce about 200 different kinds of toys, which included automatic binding bricks, a plastic fish and a plastic sailor. The automatic binding bricks were the predecessors of the LEGO toys of today.

Birth of the LEGO Brick

In 1953, the automatic binding bricks were renamed LEGO bricks. In 1957, the interlocking principle of LEGO bricks was born, and in 1958, the stud-and-coupling system was patented, which adds significant stability to built pieces. And this transformed them into the LEGO bricks we know today. Also in 1958, Ole Kirk Christiansen passed away and his son Godtfred became head of the LEGO company.

By the early 1960s, LEGO had gone international, with sales in Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany and Lebanon. Over the next decade, LEGO toys were available in more countries, and they came to the United States in 1973.

LEGO Sets

In 1964, for the first time, consumers could buy LEGO sets, which included all the parts and instructions to build a particular model. In 1969, the DUPLO series, bigger blocks for smaller hands, was introduced for the 5-and-under set. LEGO later introduced themed lines of LEGO. They include town (1978), castle (1978), space (1979), pirates (1989), Western (1996), Star Wars (1999) and Harry Potter (2001). Figures with movable arms and legs were introduced in 1978.

By 2015, LEGO toys were sold in more than 140 countries.

Since the middle of the 20th century, these small plastic bricks have sparked the imagination of children around the world, and LEGO sets have a strong hold on their place at the top of the list of the world's most popular toys. 

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The History of LEGO." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/lego-toy-bricks-first-introduced-1779349. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2017, October 9). The History of LEGO. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lego-toy-bricks-first-introduced-1779349 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The History of LEGO." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/lego-toy-bricks-first-introduced-1779349 (accessed December 13, 2017).