06/05/03
The Toy that Won't LEGO
    by Laurie Taylor

Some toys never seem to go away. Remember those old Lego blocks with the LEGO people's smiling yellow faces? Well, for a number of students at MIT a few years ago, those Legos were part of a class assignment to build a working robot. That's just a tiny part of the history and the legacy of LEGOs, which have been a staple of the toy box for nearly three quarters of a century.

LEGOs appeared in 1932, when the Danish master carpenter and joiner, Ole Kirk Christiansen, established his business in the village of Billund, Denmark. His shop turned out stepladders and other practical things in addition to wooden toys, but the name LEGO was for the bricks he made that we are all now so familiar with. The name LEGO came from the Danish words "Leg Godt" meaning "play well." Later, the company realized that LEGO in Latin means "I study" or "I put together," which is a perfect coincidence considering the playful flexibility and educational value of these toys.

At first the blocks were made of wood, and were meant to be assembled any way a child chose, underscoring the child's own creativity. The company slowly switched to making plastic bricks, and converted completely over to plastics after two separate fires had destroyed their wooden toy warehouses. Later, the LEGO company introduced model sets that while still stressing imaginative play, also sparked the need for additional pieces, which in turn led to even more possibilities. As the business grew, so did its innovations -- like complete running trains for older players and DUPLO® bricks for the youngest builders.

In the year 2000, LEGOs were named the "Toy of the Century" by the British Association of Toy Retailers -- an honor that is perhaps not surprising for a company whose mission statement and fundamental belief is that "Children are our role models." Because of its emphasis on cooperative play, which can include the whole family, it's no wonder that LEGOs have lasted and continued to develop. Among the qualities of all truly great toys is that they are well-made, durable, and offer a seemingly infinite range of play choices and creative options.

With numerous theme parks, many video games, upcoming computer-generated films, and adaptive software sets, it is hard to imagine what today's playtime would be like had it not been for those first wooden blocks and the millions of plastic ones that helped shape our imaginations. In 2002, the LEGO company aptly changed their slogan from "Play On" to "Just Imagine...". With toys of the quality and adaptability of LEGOs, the possibilities for play are truly endless.

Sources

MIT Class Assignment page: http://web.mit.edu/6.270/www/about/

LEGO website: http://www.lego.com/eng/info/history/

Copyright 2003 © Laurie Taylor

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