Today, LEGO is a well-known multinational conglomerate. Based in Billund, Denmark, the company has subsidiaries and branches throughout the world, and sells LEGO products in more than 130 countries. Currently, the company is the third largest toy manufacturer after Mattel and Hasbro. Although LEGO has been named the “toy of the century” and that their products have gone through several rounds of development over time, the company acknowledged that its foundation remains the humble LEGO brick.
The following are some not so well-known facts about LEGO, which many of us have played with when we were young, or have continued to do so till this day.
1. In its early years, LEGO toys were not well-received, with many of them returned due to poor sales.
The company was started by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. He named his company "LEGO" which means "play well" in Danish. In 1947, the company began producing the LEGO bricks. However, at that time, plastic toys were not very well-received by both retailers and consumers, as the preferred material for toys at that time was wood or metal. Hence, many of LEGO's products were returned after poor sales.
At that time, Ole Kirk was inspired by the "Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Brick" patented by British inventor Hilary Fisher Page years earlier. LEGO’s first bricks, called the Automatic Binding Bricks, which were produced in 1947, were similar copies of the Kiddicraft block.
Many years later, after Page committed suicide over business troubles, LEGO bought all the rights to the Kiddicraft block. The current brick design was developed and patented in 1958, while the material currently used came about only in 1963.
(2) The first Legoland Park was was built in Billund, Denmark in 1968.
The novelty of the park was its showcase of miniature towns completely built with LEGO bricks. Covering 12,000 square metres, the park attracted 625,000 visitors in 1968. The park subsequently expanded to more than eight times its initial size and currently has more than a million visitors a year.
There are currently five Legoland theme parks. Besides the original one in Billund, the others are in Windsor (England), Gunzburg (Germany), Carlsbad (California, USA) and Winter Haven (Florida, USA). There are plans to build one more LEGO park in Iskandar, Malaysia (in 2012). The largest model in the LEGO theme parks is a dinosaur named Bronty which is built with 2 million pieces.
In 2005, majority control of the Legoland parks was sold to the Blackstone Group, while the LEGO group retained the remaining 30%. The parks are now run by Merlin Entertainment Group, which also runs other family attractions in the world like Madame Tussauds, SEA LIFE and London Eye.
3. Each LEGO piece is manufactured with precise measurements.
As the pieces must fit firmly into one another and yet be easily dissembled, the machines making the LEGO pieces have a margin of error of only 10 micrometre (0.01 mm). The LEGO design teams use 3D modelling software to generate drawings from initial sketches, which are then prototyped with a stereolithography machine. According to the LEGO Group, about 18 out of every million pieces produced failed to meet the required standards. The average annual production is estimated to be about 36 billion pieces. It is said that Lego is also the world's number one tire manufacturer, as it produces 306 million miniature tires a year.
According to LEGO group, during the moulding process, the plastic material is heated to 230-310° C until its consistency is about that of dough. It is then injected into the moulds at a pressure of 25-150 tons, depending on which piece is being produced. It takes about seven seconds to cool and eject new pieces. The moulds used in production are accurate to within two-thousandth of a millimeter (0.002 mm). As a testament of the company's high quality standards, LEGO claims that all its pieces made from 1958 till now, regardless of its origin, remain fully compatible with one another.
4. LEGO pieces have been taken to space.
In May 2011, as part of the LEGO Bricks in Space programme, the Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-134 took 13 LEGO kits to the International Space Station (ISS) for the astronauts to build models to assess their response in microgravity. According to LEGO group, the astronauts in the ISS would conduct the experiments and share the results with elementary students through video and crew commentary. There would also be a teacher's guide and student worksheet so that students back on Earth could try out the same experiments and compare the results.
In August 2011, NASA launched the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft, which also carried three specially constructed 1.5-inch LEGO figurines. The three figurines represented the Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno and the "father of science" Galileo Galilei. The spacecraft and the three figurines are expected to arrive in July 2016 and orbit Jupiter for a year, before crashing into the planet. According to NASA, the three figurines are made of a special space-grade aluminium. They have also gone through different tests to ensure that they fit inside the spacecraft. They are also covered under thermal blankets during the space flight.
5. There are 915 million ways to combine six LEGO pieces.
When people visited the LEGO Group in the past, they were told that there were 102,981,500 possible ways to combine six eight-stud LEGO pieces of the same colour. However, one day, the company was contacted by a mathematics professor who had calculated that this ï¬gure was too low. With the aid of computer programming, the professor had calculated that the correct ï¬gure should be 915,103,765 instead.
The discrepancy was explained by the fact that in the original method of calculation, the only possibilities that were counted were the ones that eventually produce a column six bricks high. Given that computing power was insufficient in the 1970s to calculate accurately back then, it has since been proven the the correct figure should be 915 million.