The toy bricks known as LEGOs have been a part of practically everyone’s childhood—to this day, LEGOs are still a massive part of the toy industry, with children and collectors alike still seeking the newest, greatest LEGO sets available. Whether these sets create new worlds or are based on existing licensed properties, these tiny plastic bricks have unlocked creative potential from people of every generation.
We may take LEGOs for granted in this day and age, but the Danish toy company has a long, sometimes troubled history, with company founder Ole Kirk Christiansen and his son Godtfred working to get their ambitious toy company off the ground. Starting in the early 1930s, the LEGO company began building a legacy that would last for the next eight decades and beyond.
The LEGO website tells the comprehensive story of the company; with this knowledge, Stacker put together a list of important events in LEGO history from 1932 onward. After the company’s first official LEGO brick set in 1949, the rest of the list pulls information from Brickset and details the top-rated sets from each year. Learn how LEGO’s products have evolved through time—did you have any of these famous sets?
Ole Kirk Christiansen was a master carpenter, who began a business in Billund, Denmark, selling wooden toys and household furniture items like ladders, ironing boards, and stools. Christiansen was joined by his son, then 12-year old Godtfred Kirk Christiansen.
After two years, the company started by the Christiansens is branded as “LEGO.” The name is formed by the Danish phrase "leg godt," which means “play well.” In Latin, the word means “I put together.”
The first toy under the LEGO name was a wooden duck model on wheels. Godtfred Kirk Christiansen relayed a story where his father would chastise him for not applying enough varnish to the the ducks, expecting a high level of quality.
Ole Kirk Christiansen’s motto, “Only the best is good enough,” is adopted by the company. Godtfred cut the motto out of wood and hung it in the company’s workshop.
At age 17, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen began creating models of his own. Having learned the company values from his father, he set his sights on eventual leadership.
Nothing hugely notable occurred in 1938, however, it's clear the company was experiencing growth based on the information included in the next slide.
At this point in the company’s history, the LEGO Factory had 10 employees. In 1934, the company only had six or seven.
Godtfred Kirk Christiansen became a manager at his father’s company in 1940. This was partially due to his plans to study in Germany being halted by Germany’s occupation in Denmark.
There is no major news to report on from 1941 for the folks at LEGO.
On March 20, 1942, a fire destroyed the LEGO woodworking factory. The major setback discouraged Ole Kirk to the point where he almost chose to not rebuild, but with the support from family and employees, the company resumed toy production by the end of the year.
Now housed in a new factory in the same place as the original, the workforce at LEGO grew to 40 employees. Only a year prior, the company had 15 employees.
LEGO became a private limited company called Legetøjfabriken LEGO Billund A/S, translated as The LEGO Billund Toy Factory Ltd.
Don’t expect a resurgence of these toy guns in the present day, but the company at one point made realistic-looking toy weapons. This Automatic Pistol was created to celebrate the end of the Second World War.
LEGO entered the age of plastics, buying an injection-molding machine to produce its toys. LEGO became the first company in Denmark to buy the Windsor SH machine.
LEGO first exported its products in 1947, shipping six series of wooden toy animals to India. During that year, the factory received its Windsor SH machine.
At this point, the workforce at LEGO had grown to 50-plus employees. The company also produced a game of Tiddlywinks, played by flicking small plastic discs at a target.
The LEGO Group produced its first bricks in this year: the Automatic Binding Bricks. These were the earliest form of the LEGO bricks we know today, and were sold exclusively in Denmark.
Another iteration of LEGO’s new plastic bricks, these were smaller 2x4 pieces.
Despite the initial success of the new LEGO bricks, they were not the best-selling products from the company at the time. That honor was claimed by the plastic Ferguson Tractor toy.
Under the continued leadership of Ole Kirk, the LEGO company expanded. A plant for the company was built, complete with employee cafeteria.
The Automatic Binding Bricks were renamed “LEGO Mursten,” which means “LEGO Bricks.” The company filed a trademark registration for the name “LEGO.”
Launching the “LEGO Service of Play,” the company began exporting its products, beginning with Sweden. The Service Station was one of several sets created that year, with vehicles and supplementary elements that allowed children to create towns during a time where more Danes could afford cars.
Godtfred Kirk became managing director of LEGO in 1957, the same year the company invented the interlocking feature of LEGO bricks. LEGO bricks with lights allowed for sets like the Light Masts.
Ole Kirk passed away during this year and his son Godtfred succeeded him as the head of the company, continuing to churn out exciting new products. LEGO’s new Letter Bricks allowed children to spell out words, and standard bricks were slightly redesigned to provide a more stable connection.
After another company fire, Christiansen made the decision to only sell LEGO plastic bricks and discontinue their wooden toys. Like the letter bricks, the number bricks produced in this year offered up fun possibilities for children.
After years of development, the brick-making company came up with its own LEGO wheel. This allowed movement to be a greater part of LEGO toys.
Thanks to the invention of the LEGO wheel, the company was able to produce sets like the Farm Tractor, harkening back to its older toys. This year, Christiansen unveiled his 10 “product characteristics” for LEGO, putting an emphasis on fun, safety, and quality.
LEGO has historically prided itself on producing toys that appeal to all ages, but this year, new model sets with instruction sets were presented as a challenge. To balance things out, the company also began producing larger bricks for smaller children, with sets like the Pre-School Beginners Set.
One of Christiansen’s 10 characteristics was that the products should appeal to children regardless of gender. Nevertheless, the company produced one collection to appeal to young girls in particular: the Doll Furniture set. This was an unintentional throwback to the company’s early history of producing and selling wooden furniture.
Continuing the company’s progress in making jumbo bricks for smaller children, LEGO released the first Duplo Building Set. These bricks were designed for children under the age of 5.
LEGO released a book entitled “50 Years of Play” to celebrate the company’s founding in 1932. The company celebrated with a jubilee in its hometown of Billund.
The LEGO Nexo Knights was a more fantastical take on the older Castle lines, featuring a variety of fantastical creatures and technological anachronisms. The Nexo Knights line brought elements of various LEGO lines together. At LEGO Headquarters, a corporate shuffle resulted in fourth-generation owner Thomas Kirk Kristiansen becoming chairman and Bali Padda taking on the role of CEO.