When did the awesome LEGO company begin? Who created it? What was their purpose/goal? I think it would be neat to learn about this.
The history of The Lego Group starts with Ole Kirk Kristiansen, a Danish carpenter.
After the global economic downturn, spurred on by The Great Depression, Ole found that his carpentry and joinery business in Denmark was failing. This started in 1929 and by 1931 he had to let his only remaining employee go.
In 1932 he was commissioned by a Jens W. Olesen to make toys. Until then, his business primarily made wooden products that were ready-for-market, such as ironing boards, step ladders and Christmas tree stands. However, once his toy business started it really boomed.
Around this time, the yo-yo was a very popular toy, and one of Ole’s most successful products. However, once the fad of yo-yos died down, the warehouse stores were converted to a new purpose: wheels on the infamous wooden duck toy.
It wasn’t until Ole started making toys his primary business and decided he needed a new name for the company. In order to come up with a new name, he held a contest. The winner of naming contest would win a bottle of Ole’s own homemade wine!
Of course, Ole ended up the winner, and got to keep his wine. He decided on the name LEGO, which a portmanteau of the Danish words for “Play Well”, LEG and GODT. This is when LEGO was born, and Ole’s legacy as a toymaker truly started. To this day, the ideal of playing well guides the company.
Reports vary, but the founding of The LEGO Group was said to have happened either in 1932 or in 1934. I’m inclined to believe that the company name was actually created in 1934, as the later resource shows.
Besides yo-yos and ducks, LEGO made a variety of wooden toys. Their line-up included cars, trains, boats and planes. Like now, LEGO was known for their quality products. Today, LEGO only uses the highest quality ABS plastic pellets for their products, and injections molds accurate to 2 micrometres! Then, LEGO used beechwood that was air-dried, kiln-dried, polished and given three coats of paint. Once, one of his workers, his son Godtfred even, only gave a line of toys two coats of paint. Ole made him go back to the factory and give them all their third and final coat. Only the best is good enough.
There is more history involving their wooden toy line, and how they fared during World War II. However, the next most notable event was in 1942 when a fire destroyed the entire factory in Billund and its contents. Nothing survived, and the factory had to be rebuilt.
Then, in 1946 Ole invested in a plastic moulding machine, and the next year started producing some plastic toy products. It was then that they started producing “Automatic Binding Bricks” or LEGO Bricks, based on the Kiddicraft product, “Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks”.
Plastic toys, however, were not nearly as popular as the wooden toys they were already making. It took a few years until a more popular product was created, the “Town Plan” building system, in 1955. Based on the limitations of that product, new bricks were designed in 1958. This is when the iconic tubes on the undersides of LEGO bricks were first introduced.
Later that year, Ole died and his son, Godtfred took over the company. Previously, he’d resigned from LEGO, but had come back. He continued to produce both wooden and plastic toys until another warehouse fire in 1960 that destroyed most of their wooden inventory—but not their plastic inventory!
Godfredt decided then that the plastic toy line was successful enough to continue alone, and wooden toy production was discontinued. This was not a popular decision, and other family members that were big parts of the company left, just as Godfredt had left a few years ago when he disagreed with his father.
Nevertheless, Godfredt continued in the production of LEGO bricks and building systems.
These days, The LEGO Group is one of the top 3 largest toy manufacturers in the world, and run by Ole’s grandson, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. They're still headquarted in Billund, Denmark, but have facilities around the world. They’ve set themselves apart with their “play well” ideals. Their system of play of proven wildly successful, although the company has faltered at times. They’ve learned through trial and error that they are best at making quality toys that have value in helping children play better. Attempts to make clothing and jewelry (Clickts) failed.
While “Play Well” may seem to just mean good to play with, it actually represents more than that:
- LEGO toys have strict guidelines regarding weapons. They must be clearly fictional or fantastical, or accurate historical replicas. Modern weaponry are a no-no. Furthermore, the purpose of LEGO toys with weapons is not the weapons and fighting themselves, so they avoid making weapons the central part of any set.
- Like the toy guidelines, there are similarly strict guidelines regarding violence in LEGO shows and video games. Characters are not to be seen being hit too many times in succession, and they don’t “die”, simply fall apart. As with the previous bullet, these guidelines are meant to remove the emphasis on violence, and instead focus children on play.
- Similar to the points above, LEGO won’t make toy lines that contain content that isn’t considered appropriate for young children. For this reason, they avoid certain licensed themes that other toy companies don’t, and have turned down some LEGO Cuusoo/IDEAS because they don’t fit the appropriateness level LEGO requires.
- LEGO products are made from high-quality products, using high-quality manufacturing tools and equipment. They even use MRIs in their testing process to make sure new molds don’t have internal weaknesses or defects. While some “competitors” products tend to fall apart before you’ve even finished making them, you’ll find that LEGO bricks almost always snap together and stay together. (If they don’t, their friendly customer service will likely send a replacement brick for free)
- LEGO tries to increase make their business more friendly for the environment. They’ve done this by decreasing the box sizes, using paper sourced from companies using sustainable practices, implementing better recycling policies in their facilities, and expecting their suppliers to follow certain standards.
- LEGO focuses on making products that are beneficial for children. Besides their standard playsets, they also have a LEGO Education line that has grown so big it is now its own company. By understanding how children develop, and how play is involved in development, they can design better sets for children.
- LEGO wants their products to be suitable for all children. Traditionally, many of their products were seen as “boys toys”, and boys were their primary demographic. Previously, LEGO had attempt to create various lines, such as Scala, to appeal to female children, but they were largely unsuccessful. Recently, they’ve developed the LEGO Friends line, after doing years of research, and it’s been incredibly successful. What started off as a simple theme with limited products has now spun off into multiple releases and the new Elves series. What once filled up a couple shelves in a store may now take up half an aisle!
- Along with making sure they have products that appeal to all genders (despite toys being gender-neutral anyway!), they have products to appeal to children of all ages. Their DUPLO line, for instance, is made especially for toddler-aged builders. These bricks are actually compatible with normal LEGO bricks, and come in at 8 times the size. Each dimension of a DUPLO brick is double that of a LEGO brick, which is where the name comes from. This bricks are extra sturdy and safe for children to by rough with, and don’t contain any elements that may be of safety concern. As for the older builders, many of the sets appeal to adults as much as children. The yearly winter and modular house sets, the train sets, and the very large sets are incredibly popular among adult builders.
There is so much more to talk about for this company, and there are many books and websites that do just that. What I’ve written for you here has been sourced from The LEGO Group’s websites, but also comes from my time as a customer service representative for them. Much of what I learned about the history of the company actually came from training documentary videos, and has only recently been published in as much detail on their website.
What I’ve provided here should answer your questions about who created the company and why: Ole Kirk Kristiansen created the company so that children could play well.
LEGO was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen. He established his business in the village of Billund, Denmark. His firm manufactured stepladders, ironing boards, stools and wooden toys.