LEGO (Trademarked and marketed LEGO) is a line of building toys manufactured by the LEGO Group, a privately held company based in Denmark.
The company's flagship product, commonly referred to as "LEGO bricks", consists of colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, minifigures, and various other parts. There are other LEGO pieces which can be assembled and connected in many ways, to construct such objects as vehicles, buildings and even working robots.
The LEGO Group had a very humble beginning in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund, Denmark. Christiansen began creating wooden toys in 1932; the company began calling itself "LEGO" two years later in 1934. The company expanded to producing plastic toys in 1940. In 1949, LEGO began producing the now-famous interlocking bricks, calling them "Automatic Binding Bricks". These bricks were based largely on the design of Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks, which were released in the UK in 1947. The first LEGO bricks, manufactured from cellulose acetate, were developed in the spirit of traditional wooden blocks that could be stacked upon one another; however, these plastic bricks could be "locked" together. They had several round "studs" on top, and a hollow rectangular bottom. The blocks snapped together, but not so tightly that they could not be pulled apart.
The company name LEGO was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means "play well". The name could also be interpreted as "I put together" or "I assemble" in Latin, though this would be a somewhat forced application of the general sense "I collect; I gather; I learn"; the word is most used in the derived sense, "I read".
The LEGO Group's motto is "Only the best is good enough", translated from the Danish phrase, Det bedste er ikke for godt. 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.
The use of plastic for toy manufacture was not highly regarded by retailers and consumers of the time. Many of the LEGO Group's shipments were returned, following poor sales; it was thought that plastic toys could never replace wooden ones.
By 1954, Christiansen's son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, had become the junior managing director of the LEGO Group. It was his conversation with an overseas buyer that struck 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. It was not until 1958 that the modern-day brick design was developed, and it took another five years to find exactly the right material for it. The modern LEGO brick was patented on January 28, 1958, and bricks from that year are still compatible with current bricks.
Design and manufacture
LEGO pieces of all varieties have been, first and foremost, part of a universal system. Despite tremendous variation in the design and purpose of individual pieces over the years, each remains compatible in some way with existing pieces. LEGO bricks from 1963 still interlock with those made in 2008, and LEGO sets for young children are compatible with those made for teenagers.
Bricks, beams, axles, mini figures, and all other elements in the LEGO system are manufactured to an exacting degree of tolerance. When snapped together, pieces must have just the right amount of "clutch power"; they must stay together until pulled apart. They cannot be too easy to pull apart, or the resulting constructions would be unstable; they also cannot be too difficult to pull apart, since the disassembly of one creation in order to build another is part of the LEGO appeal. In order for pieces to have just the right "clutch power", LEGO elements are manufactured within a tolerance of 2 µm]
Since 1963, LEGO pieces have been manufactured from a strong, resilient plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS. Precision-machined, small-capacity molds are used, and human inspectors check the output of the molds, to eliminate significant variations in color or thickness. Worn-out molds are encased in the foundations of buildings to prevent their falling into competitors' hands. According to the LEGO Group, about eighteen bricks out of every million fail to meet the standard required. Only one percent of the plastic waste in LEGO factories goes unrecycled.
Manufacturing of LEGO bricks occurs at a number of locations around the world. Molding is done at one of two plants in Denmark and Czech Republic. Brick decorations and packaging is done at plants in Denmark, United States, Mexico, and the Czech Republic. Annual production of LEGO bricks averages approximately 20 billion (2×1010) per year, or about 6000 pieces per second. To put this in context, 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.
In 2007, LEGO Group announced a restructuring of the current production setup including the outsourcing of some of the production work to Flextronics, a Singaporean electronics company. LEGO Group plans to close the production facility in Enfield, Connecticut and outsource this work to the Flextronics factory in Mexico. Flextronics will also oversee the factory in Kladno, Czech Republic. The Czech facilities would also be expanded due to the planned closing of the Swiss factory in Baar, which mostly manufactured TECHNIC parts. On February 19, 2008, LEGO announced that the LEGO Group would instead take over operations of the Kladno factory from March 1, 2008.
Since it began producing plastic bricks, the LEGO Group has released thousands of play sets themed around a variety of topics. Examples include, but are not limited to, space, robots, pirates, vikings, medieval castles, dinosaurs, holiday locations, the wild west, the Arctic, airports, miners, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, SpongeBob SquarePants, Harry Potter, and Exo-Force. New elements are often released along with new sets. There are also LEGO sets designed to appeal to young girls such as the Clikits line which consists of small interlocking parts that are meant to encourage creativity and arts and crafts, much like regular LEGO bricks. Clikit pieces can interlock with regular LEGO bricks as decorative elements.
The LEGO range has expanded to encompass accessory motors, gears, lights, sensors, and cameras designed to be used with LEGO components. There are even special bricks, like the LEGO NXT that can be programmed with a PC or a Mac to perform very complicated and useful tasks. These programmable bricks are sold under the name LEGO Mindstorms.
In 2006 a new LEGO Mindstorms kit called Mindstorms NXT was released. It is more advanced than the RCX, has a bigger screen than the RCX, and has a new array of sensors. They include touch, sound, light, and a new ultrasonic sensor technology. There is also a Bluetooth compatible hookup that can send and receive messages from one's cellphone and other Bluetooth compatible devices. The RCX was only compatible with Windows, but NXT is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS].
On January 28, 2008, LEGO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the patent on its interlocking blocks with a worldwide building contest. Google paid tribute to the anniversary by writing its name on the Google homepage in LEGO bricks, along with the LEGO figure on one of the letters.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Page 18 of the LEGO company profile document. LEGO.com. Retrieved on 2007-05-12.
- ↑ How LEGO Bricks Work. HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved on 2007-05-13.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 LEGO Group to outsource major parts of its production to Flextronics. LEGO.com. Retrieved on 2007-05-12.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 LEGO to move operations out of Denmark and U.S.. International Herald Tribune. Archived from the original on 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2007-05-12.
- ↑ The Prague Post Online: Business: Gearing up
- ↑ LEGO Legacy Continues to be Built. TIME magazine. Retrieved on 2008-01-28.