"Lego's legacy lies less in numbers than in its creative influence. The colorful bricks have littered playroom floors for generations of families. But they have also spurred ingenuity among children that few toys can claim before and since."
— TIME Magazine
LEGO is an international, popular line of construction toys created by the LEGO Group, including franchise lines such as BIONICLE, LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Indiana Jones and, for younger audiences, Duplo, amongst many others. Most of LEGO's toys are based on the LEGO brick, though other building forms are used, a prime example being BIONICLE and TECHNIC, with its connection features. The company is currently owned by Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, grandson of LEGO's founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen.
The name LEGO is a portmanteau of two Danish words, "leg godt", meaning "play well". LEGO's primary goal is to provide entertainment and promote creativity for a large range of audience, since age guides normally range from 1 to 99 years old, even though it is mainly targeted to children and young teenagers.
Ole Kirk Christiansen was originally a carpenter in Billund, Denmark; however, in the 1930's, the Great Depression hit and Christiansen's business was hurt. In 1932 he began to produce wooden toys to earn a living, and in 1934 he gave up on his original carpentry and began to focus entirely on toys. Also in that year the name LEGO was ascribed to his toys. In the 40's Christiansen began experimenting with plastic, and in 1949, the famous LEGO brick was created, and it was known as the Automatic Building Brick. Though merely a prototype, this Automatic Building Brick had many of the features known in today's LEGO bricks, such as the hollow bottoms and the round studs on top. The company prospered under the motto, "Only the best is good enough." In 1954, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, Ole Kirk's son, had become the junior managing director, and he patented the modern LEGO brick in 1958. LEGO marched into a new age with its trademark interlocking brick. However, Ole Kirk Christiansen never saw this golden age, as he died that same year.
In 1960, a warehouse fire struck destroyed the wooden product warehouse, and the company decided to stop producing wooden toys and work only in plastic, as the LEGO brick line was already a success. By the end of the year, LEGO's staff had enlarged to a group of 450 people. In 1966 the LEGO Train series was released, and it soon grew into one of LEGO's most popular series of all time. Around this time, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen joined the LEGO company to work alongside his father Godtfred in managing. Around two years later, LEGO opened the first LEGOLAND park in Billund, and the LEGO figures made their first appearances in 1974. The next year, the Expert Builder Series was created, which later evolved into the TECHNIC line involving gears, beams and gearboxes. The beginnings of BIONICLE, though almost thirty years in the making, had begun.
In 1979 Kjeld Kristiansen became CEO of LEGO, under whom LEGO began to release themed sets, including the LEGO Space series. LEGO also continued to expand internationally under Kjeld Kristiansen, including LEGOLAND parks built in Britain, the United States, and Germany. LEGO's golden age continued through the nineties under Kjeld Kristiansen, as the company achieved two world records, with one being a castle of 400,000 LEGO bricks, and the other being a 545 meter railroad. The nineties also featured LEGO BELVILLE, aimed at girls, as well as the programmable LEGO MINDSTORMS. It was around this period in the early nineties that the first prototypes of the modern LEGO Minifigure started to appear. The Minifig carried sets like LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Harry Potter through to 2001, when BIONICLE hit shelves, leading LEGO into a new era. BIONICLE marked the first time LEGO created a storyline from scratch and the first time the toys had almost become secondary to the story. For more details pertaining to the origins of BIONICLE, please see here.
The LEGO Group Today
From its early beginnings with wooden toys, the LEGO Group has evolved into a far more advanced and diverse company today.
LEGO for Preschoolers
In 1970, the LEGO Group decided to launch a franchise of sets and toys made just for preschoolers. The object of this franchise is to encourage young children to use their hands, thus developing motor skills, through creative play. The bricks used are specially made for young children, as they are larger, and easier to grasp. As well as that, the bricks are large enough to make hard to swallow, as well as being well-molded enough so that parts will not break off. It also can attach onto ordinary LEGO bricks so kids who have grown out of DUPLO can still use the bricks when building.
The franchise, called DUPLO, has the elements of normal LEGO sets. The sets for DUPLO can be either loose bricks, thus prompting the child to create objects purely from their imagination, or in play themes, such as airports, trains, farms, zoos, police stations, fire stations, and castles. The sets are designed for children ages 2 through 6. The LEGO Group also made two similar products to DUPLO. LEGO QUATRO, for ages 1-3, and LEGO Baby (formerly known as LEGO PRIMO) for children 6 months old. Both of which were compatible with LEGO Duplo. The LEGO Group also has sets licensed as LEGO Bob the Builder and LEGO Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
LEGO in the Workplace
Titled, "Serious Play," this franchise is purely for the workplace. The idea of Serious Play was created by Johan Roos and Bart Victor in 1996 as a way to put a new spin on business. The two were professors at IMD at Switzerland at the time, and they published their ideas in the 1998 article "In Search for Original Strategies: How About Some Serious Play?". The next year, European Magazine published a second article, titled "Towards Model of Strategy Making as Serious Play". Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen was hesitant at the time, but upon seeing early material, he approved the idea and marketed Serious Play as a LEGO brand.
Victor was head of marketing and commercialization of Serious Play, and he gathered a team including Paul Howells, Robert Rasmussen Company and Professor Dave Owens of Vanderbilt University. This team later became Executive Discovery, now a member of the LEGO family. The first Serious Play application, Real-Time Strategy, was released in 2001, followed by more Serious Play applications. Serious Play is now used as a consulting service for Daimler-Chrysler, Nokia, Orange, and others.
Johan Roos received a grant from LEGO in 2001, and founded the non-profit organization Imagination Lab Foundation. Receiving grants from LEGO, Orange, Nokia, Microsoft, and others, Imagination Lab Foundation examines the Serious Play concepts in the workplace. Imagination Lab Foundation is not affiliated with Executive Discovery or LEGO.
Serious Play is based off three main areas of expertise: Play, Constructism, and Imagination. Play is considered free building and movement without authority from managers. Constructism is considered designing external items, such as a machine or book. Imagination is the concept of a human being creating a mental blueprint, and designing a physical object using the mental blueprint as instructions.
With the LEGO Group's success in Robot-esque sets, the company decided to take their work a step further. In 1998, the LEGO Group released the first set of their future successful franchise, LEGO Mindstorms. The LEGO Group had produced the first fully customizable and programmable robot. The first major set was known as the LEGO RCX. The set was released with a yellow master-brick, which was where the programs could be stored. The master-brick, known better as the RCX Brick, essentially looked like a giant standard LEGO Brick, except with a digital screen on the front. The RCX used both the LEGO Brick and TECHNIC system, allowing for infinite possibilities. Numerous motors and sensors were released to be used with the set. The touch sensor and light sensor were the only sensors released with it. The touch sensor could detect if the robot faced an obstacle, if the button on the front of the sensor was pushed in. With this, programmers could have the robot detect an obstacle and turn around it. The light sensor worked by emitting a beam of red light. This light could determine the light intensity of a color beneath it. By using the test function on the RCX Brick, programmers could determine the intensity of an object, and program the robot to perform an action if the robot read a certain range of light intensity. This would allow a robot to follow a black line. Later on, temperature and rotational sensors were also released, increasing the programming and building potentials a hundredfold.
In summer of 2006, the LEGO Group released its next major robotics brand, the LEGO Mindstorms NXT. This robot was more advanced than the RCX in many ways. The NXT master-brick featured a more secure way of downloading a program from the computer. Instead of relying on infrared connectivity, a USB cable was used. The NXT brick was also preloaded with different sounds, removing the hassle of making sounds directly on the programming program. The NXT kit used purely TECHNIC parts, but released many new TECHNIC parts, evening out the loss of LEGO Brick connectivity. The NXT came with brand new motors with a built-in rotation sensor, and a host of both old, and new sensors. Along with the light and touch sensors, which were greatly improved, the NXT released brand new ultrasonic and sound sensors. The ultrasonic sensor was essentially the eyes of the robot (hence why they looked like eyes) and was a great improvement on the touch sensor. The ultrasonic sensor could sense objects from afar, which opened up many new possibilities. The robot could now be programmed to be a security guard, as well as avoid objects before hitting them. The sound sensor could key into a sound, allowing the robot to perform an action when any sound was performed, such as a clap. As well as these, other sensors were released, allowing for great possibilities. The new parts of the NXT were also large improvements. A claw-type part allowed for the grasping of circular objects. Most fans agree that the NXT was a complete success.
The release of these robots greatly affected both education and industry. Schools, with the release of these relatively inexpensive robots, could purchase these kits, and work in robotics into their curriculum, as well as create after-school clubs for these areas. This allowed students who wished to enter the robotics field to learn the very basic concepts of programming and robots. Various companies utilized these robots to perform scientific tests and experiments of their own, which helped to improve their industry as well. Universities and colleges found the LEGO MINDSTORMS to be essential, sometimes, for their engineering classes.
With all of this hype about the robots, it was inevitable that a contest of sorts had to come about. The First Lego League achieved this. Every year, the League would send out information about a contest to interested groups, who would have already purchased a team spot from the League. The LEGO Group had created one of their best-selling franchises yet, right along with the BIONICLE franchise.
In Spring of 2009, LEGO released the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0, which included a new color sensor feature with a triple functionality, and other features. One of them was the ability to download custom sounds and icons, to customize the programs and behaviors of the robots.
- Ole Kirk Christiansen, founder of LEGO.
- Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, Ole Kirk's son and former junior managing director of the company.
- Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, former CEO and president of the company, current owner, and Ole Kirk's grandson.
- Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, current CEO, succeeded Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen in 2004
- Greg Farshtey, the editor of the LEGO Magazine, current author of the BIONICLE novels and web serials, and a member of the BIONICLE story team.
- Kelly McKiernan, the webmaster of BIONICLE.com.
- Bob Thompson, the original manager of BIONICLE, no longer affiliated with LEGO.
Features and Functions
Though LEGO itself features mainly the LEGO brick, BIONICLE is different among LEGO lines, as it features a rare connection of ball and socket joints with the stud-and-hole feature from the LEGO TECHNIC line, lending a feeling of uniqueness to BIONICLE's type of toys and the way that they have greater articulation. Another key feature of the LEGO franchise is the MOC, or My Own Creation, aspect, allowing fans to build their own LEGO models out of pieces they already have. LEGO bricks have interlocking tops and bottoms, allowing one to create any variety of structures, leaving the possibilities to the imagination, which adds to the popularity of the toy. LEGO sets have been designed for all types, such as Star Wars, BIONICLE, Indiana Jones, and Power Miners.
In its time, the LEGO Group has released many magazines and articles directly from them. As well as that, other writers have also written about this timeless toy.
The most famous of LEGO's publications is the LEGO Magazine, first published in winter of 1987. The magazine, in its time, has had many different names. It first started as Brick Kicks and later took the name LEGO Mania Magazines in winter of 1994. After around 8 years, the magazine changed again to LEGO Magazine, and is now known, simply, as the LEGO Club Magazine. The Magazine features exclusive comics of different storylines, in-depth information about numerous sets, games, contests, and exclusive building instructions, as well as featuring submitted creations.
In 2005, the LEGO Group decided to publish BrickMaster editions of the magazines, which had additional charges to subscribe to. The BrickMaster editions contained more contests, instructions, and comics than the normal magazine. In addition to that, subscribing to BrickMaster had additional, extra features such as exclusive, small LEGO sets which were mailed with every edition, each with varying themes (two BIONICLE BrickMaster sets were released, the Klakk in 2008 and Click in 2009). The BrickMaster magazine also offered LEGOshop.com coupons, and LEGOLAND admission tickets. The BrickMaster program was retired in 2011.
In 2009, LEGO also published an annual magazine called "The Brick", which talked about the employees of LEGO, the children of LEGO employees, and other facts. It was available for download, could be read online, or ordered to your address.
All LEGO pieces are made the same way. First, plastic is heated at about 450˚F (232˚C) until it is dough-like. Then, the plastic is put into a mold and applied with 25-150 tons of pressure. Finally, the piece is cooled for seven seconds in the mold before it is finished.
- LEGO currently stands as the second largest toy manufacturer in the world in terms of sales, behind Mattel. The company surpassed Hasbro in 2013.
- In Kolhii, the phrase "play well" is said before matches as a reference to the the portmanteau of the word "LEGO."
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