LEGO is one of the world’s most recognised and loved toy brands. A family business established in 1932 in Denmark, LEGO has endured an eventful history to become the brand it is today. Derived from the Danish words ‘leg godt’ meaning ‘play well’ in English, LEGO founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen wanted to create a toy that would capture the imagination and enhance the development of children all around the world. Read on to discover why we admire LEGO as much as we do.
Ole Kirk Kristiansen was a carpenter who produced household items such as ironing boards and ladders, in his woodworking shop that he established in 1916. At the time, Kristiansen also started to dabble in making wooden toys, most famously, a duck that would open and close his mouth as he was pulled along by a string. Several years later, in the midst of a burgeoning global economic depression, Kristiansen had to change his game completely as the economic effect on Denmark meant his post popular household products were not in high demand anymore.
In 1932, Kristiansen tragically lost his wife and was left to provide for four young sons alone. Facing serious financial and personal struggles, Kristiansen was forced to lay off his whole staff just so he could make ends meet for his family. At the time, and as he taught his children their whole life, he remembered that life is a gift but it can sometimes be challenging. This strong attitude in the face of dire adversity was what helped Kristiansen bounce back to become one of the greatest toy brands ever.
Now producing cheap wooden toys to make a living, Kristiansen developed different designs for wooden toys under the name LEGO. His older sons started working in the woodworking shop with their father, and one day a pile of woodchips are accidentally set alight, and the whole workshop subsequently burned down. This would be enough for any business owner to throw in the towel, but Kristiansen saw it as an opportunity to build a bigger workshop. This kind of attitude is essential for anyone wanting to grow their business, as, however great a misfortune, there is always a positive to be taken from it.
With his bigger workshop, Kristiansen was able to produce more toys and the company was now slowly growing again after the tragedies he endured in the previous years. Adjusting to the different economic climate, he looked for more cost-effective ways of producing his toys. In the mid to late 1940s, Kristiansen invested in a plastic injection moulding machine and developed the first version of the plastic LEGO brick that we all love today. Although still producing wooden toys, this is what would spark the revolution in his toy manufacturing business.
Throughout the next two decades, LEGO would see some serious growth due to smart business decisions and a love for the product they were creating. At the hands of Kristiansen’s son, Godtfred Kirk Kristiansen, LEGO really blossomed into a household name. In 1958, the LEGO Brick that we know today was patented and the idea that ‘the more bricks you have, the more you can play’ established LEGO as a toy for children to create and explore with, with endless possibilities.
In 1960, another fire marked tragedy for the Kristiansen family business. This time, the workshop producing the wooden toys burned down. This fire signified the end of wooden LEGO toys as the Kristiansen family decided to focus their entire business on the LEGO Brick System of Play. Again, a business that is flexible, maintains a positive outlook, and builds on their strengths can overcome adversity.
In 1962, the wheel was somewhat reinvented, when LEGO gave movement to their products. Soon after this, the invention of Duplo for younger children and LEGO Technic for older children (and, let’s be honest, adults) provides a product for everyone wanting to explore their imagination using LEGO. Widening a target market is not something every company can do, but this example is proof of ingenious business sense.
The LEGO Minifigure and licenced products start being produced in the following decades. In 2004, the Harry Potter LEGO series was the first to leave the yellow skin tone behind and feature a more natural and realistic look. The Minifigures were deliberately made in yellow so that they did not represent any particular race or nation, meaning no child would feel left out or not included.
Moving on from the early 2000s, LEGO has not stopped innovating and adapting to the changes in technology and how kids love to play. With the LEGO movie enterprise established in 2014, and many numerous computer games under the LEGO banner, the world of LEGO was truly welcomed into the screen age. In 2017, an online platform called LEGO Life was created, making the LEGO Group the first company to ever create a safe online community for children under the age of 13.
LEGO’s ability to overcome adversity and strive to come back greater than before is a testament to their popularity today. For a family business to have maintained its position for almost 90 years is an astounding achievement. LEGO remains a family business that has been and continues to be loved in homes all around the world. At Ronin, we admire any business that perseveres with tenacity. To let us help you build your brand, get in touch with us today.