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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Behold The Power Of The Mighty Lego!

I’m going to start today’s blog entry off by asking everybody a few questions.
Question #1 – Did you play with Lego building blocks when you were a child?

Question #2 – If any of you are parents yourselves, have you ever bought your kids Lego blocks to play with?
Question #3 – Have you ever spat off a stream of obscenities and swears after stepping on a stray Lego building block with bare feet?

My answers to the following questions are, yes I did, no, but I would if I had kids, and yes, yes, a million times yes!

I don’t know what it is about Lego bricks, but they have the potential to be used as deadly weapons if placed on the floor at a specific angle and position.

Nevertheless, Lego building blocks were one of the best toys that I ever played with.  The possibilities were endless when it came to the creativity that one possessed when faced with a Lego set.
Is it any wonder why I chose to spotlight Lego in today’s blog entry?

I honestly can’t remember a time during my childhood that I didn’t play with Lego building blocks.  When I was first introduced to Legos, I must have been no older than three or four.  I think my parents waited until I stopped trying to chew on toys before letting me play with them, because let’s face it, Legos could be a choking hazard in the wrong hands.  Once I was old enough, my parents dug out the case of Legos that belonged to my older siblings and allowed me to play with them to my heart’s content.
Mind you, none of the pieces were completed sets.  I imagine that they were back in 1977, or whatever year that they were bought, but over the years, pieces would be lost forever.  Nobody knew where they disappeared though.  Maybe they were sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.  Maybe they were accidentally thrown away.  Maybe they were buried in the backyard alongside my sister’s Malibu Barbie.  It’s hard to say.

It didn’t matter though.  Having three incomplete sets of Legos made the possibilities endless for building whatever I wanted.  I could build a Lego sword, capable of beheading any blockheads who dared cross my path.  I could build a Lego city of the future, with brightly coloured buildings in various shapes and sizes.  I could even attempt to build a robot with Lego bricks, capable of taking over the Lego cities that I would build.  Eventually, I would end up getting my very own Lego playset.  If I remember correctly, it was the police station set.  Oh, I must have had so much fun playing with it.  When I first got it, I did build the models that one was supposed to build.  But, over time, I would deviate from the plans and build my own creations, which I took great pride in.
I think that’s what I liked best about Legos.  They allowed one to have as much creative control as they wanted.  Every Lego set may have contained a set of instructions, but that didn’t mean that you had to stick to it.  I almost think that Legos were one of those toys that didn’t need rules.  All you needed to have was a love of building things and a highly creative mind, and there were endless possibilities.

By the way, do you know anything about the history behind Legos?  If not, I’ll share a brief history here.
The tale begins in the country of Denmark in the 1930s.  There, a man by the name of Ole Kirk Christiansen began to make wooden toys inside his workshop in the town of Billund.  Though, it would take a couple of years before Christiansen would come up with a name for his business.  He eventually settled on the word ‘LEGO’, which stemmed from the Danish phrase leg godt, which loosely translated into English meant “play well”.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the toys produced by the Lego company were made out of wood.  By 1947, the company began experimenting with plastic toys, and two years later in 1949, the Lego brick would be born.

Initially, when Lego bricks were designed in 1949, they were originally known as ‘Automatic Binding Bricks’, and were largely based on a design created by the United Kingdom creation known as ‘Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks’, released in 1947.  The original Kiddicraft design was modified by Lego, and a material known as cellulose acetate was used to create the interlocking blocks.  The blocks would lock, but they were also designed in such a way that they would easily come apart from each other.
It was around this time that Lego adopted the motto det bedste er ikke for godt.  Translated into English, the motto reads as ‘only the best is good enough’.  It was a motto coined by Christiansen, who encouraged his employees never to skimp on quality.  Six decades later, the motto is still in use today.

However, in Lego’s earliest years, the plastic building blocks did not sell well at all.  Many Lego sets were actually returned to the company due to the poor sales, as many consumers and retailers at the time felt that plastic blocks were just a poor substitution for wooden blocks.
It wasn’t until 1954 that Lego bricks began to gain in popularity, thanks to an idea by Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, the son of Ole Kirk.  That year, he was in talks with an overseas buyer about distributing the Lego bricks when an idea came to him.  He saw the potential for Lego bricks to be used for creative play, and felt that he could market them as a toy that was both fun and educational.  At the time he had the idea though, the Lego brick still had some flaws.  The bricks didn’t lock very well, and weren’t exactly the most versatile.  A newer, more modern Lego brick was designed, and patented on January 28, 1958.

TRIVIA:  If you were lucky enough to have a Lego set that was manufactured in 1958, you might be surprised to know that bricks that are made in 2012 sets are compatible with the 1958 bricks!
Five years later, in 1963, the material used for the creation of Lego bricks was changed.  Instead of being made from cellulose acetane, the company used acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) polymer, a substance that was stronger and more resilient.  This is the material that is currently used to manufacture Lego bricks.  To make a brick, the ABS is heated up to 232 degrees Celsius (450 degrees Fahrenheit) and once the substance takes on a dough-like appearance, it is poured into the brick moulds, and cooled for fifteen seconds.  Afterwards, the bricks are inspected to see if the bricks meet the standards of the company.

According to the company, out of one million bricks that are produced, a little less than twenty bricks fail to meet the standards.  That’s quite a good success rate.  Even better is that for the bricks that do not make the cut, 99% of them are recycled to be made into newer bricks.  So, Lego isn’t just a company with high standards for their product, but they also seem to have huge awareness of recycling and the environment.  No wonder I love this toy so much!

Lego bricks are manufactured and sold in most colours.  Among the most common colours that people can find are black, white, blue, red, yellow, and green.  But other colours can be found, depending on the Lego kit one plays with.
Today, Lego bricks are manufactured all over the world, and it is estimated that since 1958, the company has produced well over four hundred BILLION Lego bricks.  To put that in perspective, if you divided up each of those bricks evenly amongst every person in the world, each person would have a 60-piece Lego kit!

BONUS TRIVIA:  According to a 2006 article in BusinessWeek, Lego could be widely considered to be the #1 tire manufacturer, producing 306 million miniature tires per year! 

It’s true that Lego bricks are amongst some of the most sought after toys for girls and boys.  With various playsets ranging from Harry Potter to Barbie to Indiana Jones, there’s fun for everyone.

Lego even made sure that people of all ages could experience the joys of Lego building.  In 1969, Lego began manufacturing Duplo blocks.  They were the same as regular Legos, only twice the size.  The perfect block for really small children to play with.  In addition to that, the Lego Baby line was launched in 1995, which gave babies the chance to have fun with Legos.

Legos have also managed to make their way to video game consoles as well.  These days, it’s not uncommon to see Lego adaptations of Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars being made into video games for the XBOX 360, PlayStation 2 and 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS consoles.
As if that weren’t enough, various Lego stores and theme parks have been built all around the world.  A total of 46 retail stores in various areas of the world have been opened, and as expected, the stores mostly peddle Lego related merchandise.  In some newer stores, certain areas of the store have been transformed into classrooms, where instructors teach children between the ages of four and twelve various subjects using Lego blocks as visual aids.
Now, that would have been a school that I would have LOVED to have attended.

And, there are five Legoland theme parks that have opened up.  Naturally, one is located in the birthplace of Lego, Billund, Denmark.  There are locations in England, Germany, and two in the United States.  There are also four Legoland Discovery Centers open for business in the United States, England, and Germany, with more scheduled to be opened up in the near future.

(I wonder if Canada will ever get one?)

And, just recently, Lego managed to leap into the board game market.  To make the game even more fun, in order for players to begin playing the game, they first had to build the game board out of Legos.  Once that was done, the players would control little Lego men and move them around the board.  Even the dice used in the game was made of Legos.
It’s amazing just how far Lego has come as a company.  And, with continued success through creative and innovative ideas, it’s no wonder the toy is still widely purchased and loved.  And, in 1998, Lego bricks were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame!

That’s my report on Legos.  I hope you all enjoyed it.  As for me, I’m now starting to wonder if I even still have my old Legos.  I kind of want to play with them again after writing this blog!

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