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|Inventor||Ole Kirk Christiansen|
Lego is a popular line of construction toys manufactured by The Lego Group, a privately held company based in Billund, Denmark. The company's flagship product, Lego, consists of colourful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, minifigures and various other parts. Lego bricks can be assembled and connected in many ways, to construct such objects as vehicles, buildings, and even working robots. Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects. Lego began manufacturing interlocking toy bricks in 1949. Since then a global Lego subculture has developed, supporting movies, games, competitions, and six themed amusement parks.
The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen (born 7 April 1891), a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. In 1934, his company came to be called "Lego", from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means "play well".
It expanded to producing plastic toys in 1947. In 1949 Lego began producing, among other new products, an early version of the now famous interlocking bricks, calling them "Automatic Binding Bricks". These bricks were based in part on the Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks, which were patented in the United Kingdom in 1939 and then there released in 1947. Lego modified the design of the Kiddicraft brick after examining a sample given to it by the British supplier of an injection-molding machine that the company had purchased. The bricks, originally manufactured from cellulose acetate, were a development of traditional stackable wooden blocks that locked together by means of several round studs on top and a hollow rectangular bottom. The blocks snapped together, but not so tightly that they required extraordinary effort to be separated.
The Lego Group's motto is det bedste er ikke for godt which means roughly "only the best is the best" (more literally "the best is never too good"). This motto was created by Ole Kirk to encourage his employees never to skimp on quality, a value he believed in strongly. The motto is still used within the company today. By 1951 plastic toys accounted for half of the Lego Company’s output, although Danish trade magazine Legetøjs-Tidende ("Toy-Times"), visiting the Lego factory in Billund in the early 1950s, felt that plastic would never be able to replace traditional wooden toys. Although a common sentiment, Lego toys seem to have become a significant exception to the dislike of plastic in children's toys, due in part to the high standards set by Ole Kirk.
By 1954, Christiansen's son, Godtfred, had become the junior managing director of the Lego Group. It was his conversation with an overseas buyer that led to the idea of a toy system. Godtfred saw the immense potential in Lego bricks to become a system for creative play, but the bricks still had some problems from a technical standpoint: their locking ability was limited and they were not very versatile. In 1958, the modern brick design was developed, and it took another five years to find the right material for it, ABS ( acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) polymer. The modern Lego brick was patented on 28 January 1958, and bricks from that year are still compatible with current bricks.
1960s – 21st century
Since the 1960s, the Lego Group has released thousands of sets with a variety of themes, including town and city, space, robots, pirates, trains, Vikings, castle, dinosaurs, undersea exploration, and wild west.
In 1978, Lego produced the first minifigures, which have since become a staple in most sets.
New elements are often released along with new sets. There are also Lego sets designed to appeal to young girls such as the Belville and Clikits lines which consist of small interlocking parts that are meant to encourage creativity and arts and crafts, much like regular Lego bricks. Belville and Clikit pieces can interlock with regular Lego bricks as decorative elements.
While there are sets which can be seen to have a military theme – such as Star Wars, the German and Russian soldiers in the Indiana Jones sets, the Toy Story green soldiers and Lego Castle – there are no directly military-themed sets in any line. This is following Ole Kirk Christiansen's policy of not wanting to make war seem like child's play.
The Lego range has expanded to encompass accessory motors, gears, lights, sensors, and cameras designed to be used with Lego components. Motors, battery packs, lights and switches are sold under the name Power Functions. The Technic line utilises newer types of interlocking connections that are still compatible with the older brick type connections. The Technic line can often be motorised with Power Functions.
Bionicle is a line of toys by the Lego Group that was marketed towards those in the 7–16 year-old age range. The line was launched in January 2001 in Europe and June/July 2001 in the United States. The Bionicle idea originated from the earlier toy lines Slizers (also known as Throwbots) and the short-lived RoboRiders. Both of these lines had similar throwing disks and characters based on classical elements. The sets in the Bionicle line have increased in size and flexibility through the years. Bionicle was discontinued and replaced with Hero Factory in 2010.
The Lego Group's Duplo product line, introduced in 1969, is a range of simple blocks which measure twice the width, height and depth of standard Lego blocks, and are aimed at younger children.
Lego Fabuland ran from 1979 to 1989. The more advanced Lego Technic was launched in 1977. Lego Primo is a line of blocks by the Lego Group for very young children that ran between 2004 and 2006. In 1995 Lego Baby was launched for babies.
One of the largest Lego sets ever commercially produced is a minifig-scaled edition of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon. Designed by Jens Kronvold Fredericksen, it was released in 2007 and has 5,195 pieces. It was surpassed, though, by a 5,922 piece Taj Mahal.
In May 2011, Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-134 brought 13 Lego kits to the International Space Station, where astronauts will build models and see how they react in microgravity, as part of the Lego Bricks in Space program. The results will be shared with schools as part of an educational project.
Lego pieces of all varieties constitute a universal system. Despite variation in the design and purpose of individual pieces over the years, each remains compatible in some way with existing pieces. Lego bricks from 1958 still interlock with those made in the current time, and Lego sets for young children are compatible with those made for teenagers.
Each Lego piece must be manufactured to an exacting degree of precision. When two pieces are engaged they must fit firmly, yet be easily disassembled. The machines that make Lego bricks have tolerances as small as 10 micrometres.
Primary concept and development work takes place at the Billund headquarters, where the company employs approximately 120 designers. The company also has smaller design offices in the UK, Spain, Germany, and Japan, which are tasked with developing products aimed specifically at these markets. The average development period for a new product is around twelve months, in three stages. The first stage is to identify market trends and developments, including contact by the designers directly with the market; some are stationed in toy shops close to holiday periods, while others interview children. The second stage is the design and development of the product based upon the results of the first stage. As of September 2008 the design teams use 3D modelling software to generate CAD drawings from initial design sketches. The designs are then prototyped using an in-house stereolithography machine. These are presented to the entire project team for comment and for testing by parents and children during the "validation" process. Designs may then be altered in accordance with the results from the focus groups. Virtual models of completed Lego products are built concurrently with the writing of the user instructions. Completed CAD models are also used in the wider organisation, such as for marketing and packaging.
Since 1963, Lego pieces have been manufactured from a strong, resilient plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). As of September 2008, the engineers use the NX CAD/ CAM/ CAE PLM software suite to model the elements. The software allows the parts to be optimised by way of mould flow and stress analysis. Prototype moulds are sometimes built before the design is committed to mass production. The ABS plastic is heated to 232 °C (450 °F) until at a dough-like consistency. It is then injected into the moulds at pressures between 25 and 150 tons, and takes approximately 15 seconds to cool. The moulds are permitted a tolerance of up to two micrometres, to ensure the bricks remain connected. Human inspectors check the output of the moulds, to eliminate significant variations in colour or thickness. According to the Lego Group, about eighteen bricks out of every million fail to meet the standard required. Lego factories recycle all but about 1 percent of their plastic waste from the manufacturing process every year. If the plastic cannot be re-used in Lego bricks, it is processed and sold on to industries that can make use of it.
Manufacturing of Lego bricks occurs at a number of locations around the world. Moulding is done in Billund, Denmark; Nyíregyháza, Hungary; and Monterrey, Mexico. Brick decorations and packaging is done at plants in Denmark, Hungary, Mexico and Kladno in the Czech Republic. The Lego Group estimates that in the course of five decades it has produced some 400 billion Lego blocks. Annual production of Lego bricks averages approximately 36 billion per year, or about 1140 elements per second. If all the Lego bricks ever produced were to be divided equally among a world population of six billion, each person would have 62 Lego bricks. According to an article in BusinessWeek in 2006, Lego could be considered the world's No. 1 tire manufacturer; the factory produces about 306 million tiny rubber tires a year.
In December 2012, the BBC's More or Less programme asked the Open University's engineering department to determine "how many Lego bricks, stacked one on top of the other, it would take to destroy the bottom brick?" Using a hydraulic testing machine, the engineering department determined the average maximum force a 2×2 Lego brick can stand is 4,240 newtons; since an average 2×2 Lego brick has a mass of 1.152 grams (0.0406 oz), according to their calculations it would take a stack of 375,000 bricks to cause the bottom brick to collapse, which represents a stack 3,591 metres (11,781 ft) in height.
Over the years, Lego has licensed themes from numerous cartoon and film franchises. These include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Batman, Ben 10, Bob the Builder, Cars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Prince of Persia, Speed Racer, Spider-Man, SpongeBob SquarePants, Star Wars, Super Heroes, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Toy Story.
Although some of the licensed themes, such as Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones, have had highly successful sales, Lego has expressed a desire to rely more upon their own characters and classic themes, and less upon licensed themes related to movie releases. Several of the themes have been discontinued.
Lego initiated a robotics line of toys called 'Mindstorms' in 1998, and has continued to expand and update this range ever since. The roots of the product originate from a programmable brick developed at the MIT Media Lab, and the name is taken from a paper by Seymour Papert, a computer scientist and educator who developed the educational theory of constructionism, and whose research was at times funded by the Lego Group.
The programmable Lego brick which is at the heart of these robotics sets has undergone several updates and redesigned, with the latest being called the 'NXT' brick, being sold under the brand name of Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0. The set includes sensors that detect touch, light, sound and ultrasonic waves, with several others being sold separately, including an RFID reader.
The intelligent brick can be programmed using official software available for Windows and Mac computers, and is downloaded onto the brick via Bluetooth or a USB cable. There are also several unofficial programs and compatible programming languages that have been made to work with the brick, and many books have been written to support this community.
There are several robotics competitions which use the Lego robotics sets. The earliest is Botball, a national U.S. middle- and high-school competition stemming from the MIT 6.270 Lego robotics tournament. Other Lego robotics competitions include Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL) for students ages 6–9, FIRST Lego League (FLL) for students ages 9–14, and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) for high school students. Jr.FLL FLL, and FTC offer real-world engineering challenges to participants. FLL uses Lego-based robots to complete tasks. Jr.FLL participants build models out of Lego elements. FTC uses the NXT Intelligent brick and its pieces along with another building platform called TETRIX. In its 2010 season, there were 16,070 FLL teams in over 55 countries. In its 2010 season, there were 2,147 Jr.FLL teams with 12,882 total student participants in the United States and Canada The international RoboCup Junior football competition involves extensive use of Lego Mindstorms equipment which is often pushed to its extreme limits.
Clones of Lego
The definitive shape of the Lego bricks, with the inner tubes, was patented by the Lego Group in 1958. Several competitors have attempted to take advantage of Lego's popularity by producing blocks of similar dimensions, and advertising them as being compatible with Lego bricks.
In 2002, Lego sued the CoCo Toy Company in Beijing for copyright infringement over its "Coko bricks" product. CoCo was ordered to cease manufacture of the products, publish a formal apology and pay damages.
The English company Best-Lock Construction Toys was sued by Lego in German courts in 2004, and 2009. but the Federal Patent Court of Germany denied Lego trademark protection for the shape of its bricks. The Canadian company Mega Bloks were sued by Lego in 2005 for trademark violation, but the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Mega Bloks rights to sell their product. In 2010, the European Court of Justice ruled that the eight-peg design of the original Lego brick "merely performs a technical function [and] cannot be registered as a trademark."
Related products and services
The Lego Group has used the Lego toy system to branch out into a number of other areas.
Lego has branched out into the videogames market since 1997, beginning with games such as Lego Island and Lego Creator. Popular titles include the 1999 game Lego Racers and the 2001 game Lego Racers 2. More recent licensed games include Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman, and many more.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1–4 was released in June 2010, and Lego Rock Band was released in autumn of 2009. Another game announced is Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and total remakes of the other movie's levels was released in 2009. More Lego video games are Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, based on the first and second seasons of The Clone Wars and Lego Battles: Ninjago based on the short video clips on the website. An addition to the Lego video game series is Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game, where you can play all four movies including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The newest video game is Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes.
Lego Digital Designer is an official piece of Lego software for Mac OS X and Windows which allows users to build with Lego bricks on their computers. Users can then publish their creations online on the Lego Design by Me website, or purchase the physical bricks to build them. Lego Digital Designer includes some Lego products which only exist online, including models for the children's television programs TUGS, Thomas and Friends and Speed Racer.
First launched in 1996, the Lego website has developed over the years, and provides many extra services beyond a shop and product catalogue. There are moderated message boards, founded in 2001.
My Lego Network is a social networking site that involves items, blueprints, ranks, badges which are earned for completing certain tasks, trading and trophies called masterpieces which allow users to progress to go to the next rank. The website has a built in inbox which allows users to send prewritten messages to one another. The Lego Network includes automated non-player characters within called "Networkers", who are able to do things which normal users cannot do, such as sending custom messages, and selling masterpieces and blueprints. The site also has modules which are set up on the user's page to 'grow' certain things, for showing picture compositions or both. The site includes instructions booklets for all Lego sets dating back to 2002.
Since around 2000, the Lego Group has been promoting "Lego Serious Play", a form of business consultancy fostering creative thinking, in which team members build metaphors of their organizational identities and experiences using Lego bricks. Participants work through imaginary scenarios using visual three-dimensional Lego constructions, imaginatively exploring possibilities in a serious form of play.
Merlin Entertainments operates six Legoland amusement parks, the original in Billund, Denmark, the second in Windsor, England, the third in Günzburg, Germany, the fourth in Carlsbad, California, the fifth in Winter Haven, Florida, and the sixth in Nusajaya, Malaysia. On 13 July 2005, the control of 70% of the Legoland parks was sold for $460 million to the Blackstone Group of New York while the remaining 30% is still held by Lego Group. There are also eight Legoland Discovery Centres, two in Germany, four in the United States, one in Japan and one in the United Kingdom. Two new Legoland Discovery Centres are scheduled to open in 2013: one at the Westchester Ridge Hill shopping complex in Yonkers, NY and one at the Vaughan Mills in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. Another will open at the Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey in 2014.
Lego operates 46 retail stores (34 in the United States, seven in the United Kingdom, five in Germany, four in Canada, one in Denmark), including ones at the Downtown Disney shopping complexes at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts as well as in Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. On 24 November 2010, a Lego retail store was opened in Lima, Peru, at Jockey Plaza Shopping Centre. The opening of each store is celebrated with weekend-long event in which a Master Model Builder creates, with the help of volunteers—most of whom are children—a larger-than-life Lego statue, which is then displayed at the new store for several weeks.
Three of the recently opened Lego stores incorporate a new idea for the Lego retail side, called Lego education. At these three stores (which are located in Concord, North Carolina; Hanover, Maryland; and Berlin, Germany) there are separate areas to the side of the store that are used as classrooms, where specially trained facilitators teach children ranging from 4 to 12 years old about numerous different subjects while using Lego products. This new concept is being tested and has only been around for about 8 months.
Since 1993 LEGOwear Clothes have been produced and marketed by a Danish company called Kabooki under license from Lego Group. The clothes are for boys and girls from 0–12 years old and the partnership also ties in with other Lego products such as 'Ninjago', 'Hero Factory' and the new 'Friends' theme for girls.
Lego Games launched in 2009–2010, and is a series of Lego-themed board games designed by Cephas Howard and Reiner Knizia in which the players usually build the playing board out of Lego bricks and then play with Lego-style players. Some of the games are Race 3000, Wild Wool, Minotaurus, Magikus, Monster 4, Lava Dragon, Pirate Code, Ramses Pyramid, Atlantis Treasure, Robo Champ, Orient Bazaar, and Creationary. Like many board games, the games utilize dice. However, in Lego Games, the die is Lego, with Lego squares with symbols on Lego studs on the die. The games vary from simple to complex, some are similar to "traditional" board games, while others are completely different.
Films and television
In the past, Lego has turned down approaches from Hollywood to make a feature-length film based on the toy. However, this stance has since softened. A number of straight-to-DVD computer animated Bionicle and Hero Factory movies have been produced. A movie called LEGO: The Adventures of Clutch Powers was released on DVD in February 2010. This was a completely computer-animated film made by Tinseltown Toons. It is a crossover movie comprising many Lego themes.
A feature film adaptation of the Lego world is in production, and has been slotted by Warner Bros. for release in February 2014. In August 2012, Morgan Freeman and Elizabeth Banks joined a cast already including Chris Pratt in the lead role and Will Arnett as Batman. It was also reported the studio hoped to sign Channing Tatum to the film in the role of Superman. The film's release date was moved up to February 7, 2014 in October 2012, and a contest was established for contestants to submit designs for vehicles to be used in the film. By November 2012, the cast expanded with Liam Neeson, Alison Brie, Will Ferrell and Nick Offerman signing on for roles.
A CG animated TV series titled Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu has been airing on Cartoon Network since 2011. Another CG animated series based in Lego Legends of Chima is expected to debut in 2013 on Cartoon Network.
Books and magazines
Lego has an ongoing deal with publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK), who are producing a series of illustrated hardback books looking at different aspects of the construction toy. The first was "The Ultimate Lego Book", published in 1999. More recently, in 2009, the same publisher produced The LEGO Book, which was sold within a slipcase along with Standing Small: A celebration of 30 years of the LEGO minifigure, a smaller book focused on the minifigure. In same year, DK also published books on Lego Star Wars (Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary) and a range of Lego-based sticker books.
Although no longer being published in the United States by Scholastic, books covering events in the BIONICLE storyline are written by Greg Farshtey. They are still being published in Europe by AMEET. BIONICLE comics, also written by Farshtey, are compiled into graphic novels and were released by Papercutz. This series ended in 2009, after nine years. There is also the Lego Club and Brickmaster magazine, the latter discontinued in 2011.
In popular culture
Lego's popularity is demonstrated by its wide representation and usage in many forms of cultural works, including books, films and art work. It has even been used in the classroom as a teaching tool. In the USA, Lego Education North America is a joint venture between Pitsco, Inc. and the educational division of the Lego Group.
In 1998, Lego bricks were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York.