LEGO History

by Ivan Abarca 

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with the Chicago branch of Spark. The UYIJP is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation.

Albert and Marianne, a couple from Chicago, spend about $80 a year on LEGOs a couple times a year and keep what they build on a shelf. But that’s nothing compared to Albert’s cousin, who has a whole LEGO city in his basement. I met Albert, 28, and Marianne, 30, at the LEGO Store in downtown Chicago. They have only been building LEGOs for about a year, but they love them.

The Lego Store was filled with people like Albert and Marianne when I visited it in October. Alison, a 23-year-old employee there who is fromUtah, told me that Lego’s were famous the world over and had been around since 1932. They were invented by a man named Ole Kirk Christiansen. That made me wonder: What would give someone the idea to invent LEGOs?

It turns out the whole story is on YouTube.

InBillund,Denmark, Ole was a carpenter working in a workshop. He started building toys, beginning with a wooden duck.

He was searching for a name to put on his toys, and thought of the phrase “Leg Godt,” which means playing well in Danish. One day he was staring out the window and saw a truck with the phrase on it, but because of the window frames he could only see the LEG GO part of it. LEGO means “I put together.” That would the name he would use on his toys.

In 1942, Ole’s toy workshop burned down and he lost everything. He decided not to give up. He built a new toy workshop. On a trip to Copenhagenin 1946, Ole bought a plastic toy machine – he had built all his toys of wood. He bought the machine and built his first plastic teddy bear. Ole and his son Godtfred built the LEGO Ferguson Tractor which became very popular and made the company a success. Ole and Godtfred took a trip on the ferry toEnglandin 1954. Godtfred got the idea to make LEGO a whole system of toys that fit together, and then sold LEGOs to many countries. Godtfred figured out that the LEGOs didn’t stick together, so every time a child built something big, it would collapse. He figured out how to make the LEGO pieces stick together. Then Ole and Godtfred’s toy factory burned down. They swore off wooden toys forever.

Three years later, Godtfred built the Billund Airport because so many people were coming to town to tour the LEGO factory. LEGOs became so popular that Godtfred came up with the idea of building a LEGO amusement park. In 1968, LEGOLAND opened. Six hundred thousand guests came the first year. Today, the LEGO Company is still owned by the Christiansen family. LEGOs are sold in 130 countries.

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