Lego lady scientists: ten more milestones for world's top toy

Jun 5, 2014

As Lego launches a female scientists series, here are ten more key turning points in Lego history

Lego is officially launching a series of tiny, plastic female scientists this August, including an astronomer, paleontologist and a chemist. The idea was submitted by Dr Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist in Stockholm, who recognised a gender gap in the toy set. For a toy company with an unhappy history when it comes to gender issues, the move has been hailed as a stereotype-busting breakthrough.

It comes after Lego notched up a record-breaking year, overtaking Mattel to become the largest toymaker in the world. The Danish company announced sales of £2.8bn and profits of £900m last year, up ten per cent on 2012, The Guardian reports – and that was before the Lego movie became a popular and critical success.

The record figures cap a decade-long recovery from a crisis that threatened the very survival of the family-owned company at the turn of the millennium. So what has led to Lego's change in fortunes? We take a look through some milestones from the company's history.

1. Firm foundations

In 1932 carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen starts a business in his home town of Billund, Denmark. Initially the company manufactures wooden toys as well as stepladders, ironing boards and stools. In 1934 it adopts the name Lego formed from the Danish words "LEg GOdt" ("play well").

2. One word: Plastics

Between 1946 and 1949 the company shifts its focus away from wooden toys towards plastic after investing in a plastic injection-moulding machine. In 1949 the company produces its first "Automatic Binding Bricks" a forerunner to contemporary Lego blocks.

3. Brick by brick

By 1953 plastic toys account for half of Lego's sales, and the company launches it first toy set with the name "Lego bricks". The familiar colour blocks can be constructed into many different configurations. In 1958 the company patents its "stud and tube" coupling system that allows the blocks to click together.

4. Rules of engagement

In very Danish fashion, Lego manager Godfred Kirk Chritsiansen - son of company founder Kirk - codifies the toy's primary qualities in 1963:

  • Unlimited play potential
  • For girls and for boys
  • Fun for every age
  • Year-round play
  • Healthy, quiet play
  • Long hours of play
  • Development, imagination, creativity
  • The more LEGO, the greater the value
  • Extra sets available
  • Quality in every detail
 5. A new theme

Throughout the 1960s Lego experiences a period of massive growth. In 1968, 18 million Lego sets are sold worldwide, and the company opens its first theme park, Legoland, next to the original toy factory. The park attracts a reported 625,000 visitors in its first season.

6. Go figure

In 1978 Lego launches its first "minifigures" - the characters that have come to dominate the toy today. They have movable arms and legs and come in three different themes: town, space and castle. The company also begins producing its advanced Technic Lego line and Duplo, larger blocks for young children.

7. Top ten

By 1990 Lego is one of the top ten toys in the world. In the same year, one million people visit its theme park in Denmark.

8. Making connections

Lego experiences a downturn in the early 2000s and after laying off 1,000 employees it refocuses on its core products. Tie-ins with other franchises also help turn around the company’s fortunes. Lego figures have been created for a large number of movies and popular culture characters including Avatar, Batman, Ben 10, Bob the Builder, Cars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Prince of Persia, Spider-Man, SpongeBob SquarePants, Star Wars, Super Heroes, Thomas the Tank Engine, Toy Story, and The Hobbit.

9. Computer love

Lego has been creating its own video games since the late 90s, and its greatest successes have come from tie-ins with film franchises, including Star Wars, Harry Potter and Batman.

10. Small toy, big screen

The Lego Movie has been an enormous box office success - it is the highest grossing film of 2014 so far and a sequel is planned with a release date of 2017. The enormous success of the movie is already being credited as driving Lego's recent profit growth, the BBC reports.

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