Play well: How a tiny plastic toy took over the world

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 5/5/17

Ole Kirk Christiansen wasn’t trying to become famous when he started making wooden toys in 1932. He was just looking for a way to scratch out a living in the midst of the Great Depression.

Christiansen had been a successful homebuilder in …

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Play well: How a tiny plastic toy took over the world

Posted

Ole Kirk Christiansen wasn’t trying to become famous when he started making wooden toys in 1932. He was just looking for a way to scratch out a living in the midst of the Great Depression.

Christiansen had been a successful homebuilder in Denmark until the economic collapse. Desperate times called for more practical products, such as ironing boards, stools and stepladders.

It was the toys, however, that inspired the name of the company — LEGO. It was taken from the Danish words “Leg Godt” (“play well”).

In 1946, the company introduced the LEGO Automatic Binding Brick. It wasn’t until 1957, the company’s 25th year, that the interlocking principle was invented.

The modern LEGO brick dates back to 1958, which was also the year of Christiansen’s death.

Two years later, his son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, decided to stop manufacturing the wooden toys that had initially made the company successful and focus solely on the plastics that would eventually make LEGO a household name.

In 1998, LEGO was one of the first toys to be inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

In 2015, the LEGO Group surpassed Mattel as the world’s largest toy company in terms of sales.

Today, LEGO sets are sold in over 130 countries. At Christmas, it is estimated that 28 sets are sold every second.

Zac and I have done our part to keep the LEGO Group in business.

Wyatt has so many LEGOs that Santa brought him a toy cabinet for Christmas to hold them all.

Our biggest investments so far have been in Star Wars sets. Zac and Wyatt’s masterpiece is the Star Wars Resistance X-Wing fighter, which is made up of 740 pieces.

They felt like they had really accomplished something when they finished that one, but it’s far from the largest set ever. That distinction belongs to the LEGO Taj Majal — 5,900 pieces.

LEGO fans and space geeks alike are eagerly waiting the release of the Saturn V rocket set on June 1. It will cost $119.99 and contain 1,969 pieces to commemorate the year that man first walked on the moon.

Several of Zac and Wyatt’s LEGO sets are now on display at the Jasper Public Library. They were honored to help promote the library’s upcoming summer reading program. This year’s theme is “Build a Better World.”

I didn’t help them piece those LEGO scenes back together; the instruction booklets might as well be written in Greek.

However, I did contribute by reuniting some of the characters with their missing parts.

Wyatt’s favorite thing to do when he gets a new set is to put the people together. His next favorite thing to do is take them apart.

As I was going through the toy cabinet, I found Darth Vader without a head, Batman without legs and Robin wearing Joker’s hair.

According to my research, four billion LEGO figures have been created since 1978, which makes them the largest unofficial population in the world.

Here are some other fun facts I found:

•It's estimated that children spend 5 billion hours a year playing with LEGO bricks.

•More than 400 billion Lego bricks have been produced since 1958. There are about 62 Lego bricks per person of the Earth's population.

•The U.S. is not the top LEGO market; Germany is.

•Only 18 pieces in a million are wasted during the production process.

•LEGO is the world’s largest manufacturer of wheels. Over 306 million are produced every year.

•In 2009, a British man constructed a house out of 3.3 million LEGO bricks.

•Fans can create their own sets and submit them at ideas.lego.com. Ideas that get 10,000 votes enter the LEGO review phase, and a few are selected for production. The Saturn V rocket was a fan’s idea, as was a yet-to-be released “Women of NASA” set featuring astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, mathematician Katherine Johnson of “Hidden Figures” fame and astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, “Mother of the Hubble.”

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.