How to create the perfect cube?
Dane Ole Kirk Christiansen was a carpenter who made household goods and wooden toys. The latter were better for him, and in 1932 Christiansen founded the LEGO toy company. The name was born from an abbreviation of the Danish leg godt – “play well”, but another meaning was hidden in it: one of the meanings of the word lego in Latin is “collect, pick up”.
Christiansen was widowed early; by the time the business is established he was a single father of four children, so he was well versed in children’s interests, but during the Great Depression, the toy business was not very profitable. The situation changed only after the Second World War, when the light industry in Denmark began to develop actively. In order to expand the range, in 1947 Christiansen purchased a plastic injection molding machine.
He dreamed that the buildings made of them were strong and stable, but if desired, they could be dismantled. It was difficult to produce such from wood, but it was easy to cast from plastic.
To realize his plan, Christiansen staked on progress. Plastic toys were then a curiosity and not everyone liked, but he continued to see the potential in them and did not stop trying to improve his “fastening building blocks.” In 1958, he made a major change to them: the underside of the cube became hollow, and a cylinder with a hole appeared inside. Finally, the parts easily connected to each other and held tight! In the same year, shortly before his death, Christiansen patented this “LEGO brick” shape, along with several less successful modifications, to protect himself from competitors. At the age of 67, Ole Kirk died, and production was headed by his son Gottfried.
And today, parts produced in 1958 can be combined with modern ones. From the very beginning LEGO sets were created with the expectation that they will be played for many years, pass on from older children to younger ones, combine sets and create your own buildings from them.
Another important date in the company’s history is 1964, when LEGO began using ABS plastic to make bricks, from which they are still made, instead of cellulose acetate. It is non-toxic, less prone to discoloration and deformation, and more resistant to high temperature and chemicals.
In 1969, LEGO launched Duplo, a line for toddlers with larger pieces. A standard hollow cube is exactly twice as big as a similar piece from Lego, but these lines are compatible with each other: a 2×4 lego piece connects with hollow pieces, so they can continue to be used when the child outgrows the toy building set.
By the way, pumped parents know that in addition to construction With Duplo, you can implement many game scenarios: make a mosaic out of cubes, use them as a material for counting and studying geometric shapes, build a shadow theater or a labyrinth.
From gender neutrality to stereotypes and back
By the early 1970s, the LEGO Group was already a serious company: it sold tens of millions of bricks every year, was preparing to build its own production in the United States, and also owned a theme park. LegolandLegolandThe world’s first Legoland theme park was built in 1968 in Denmark, in a small town called Billund. Today it is the largest Legoland in the world, with a total of over 46 million LEGO bricks of various sizes. The area of this park is about 100,000 square meters. in Denmark. Continuing development, the brand moved to a new marketing strategy – creation of a separate line for girls. From this point forward, the LEGO product launch story can be seen as an illustration of the public perception of gender stereotypes over the past fifty years.
The very first LEGO sets were marketed more as gender-neutral, consisting mostly of building blocks, with boxes and ads showing boys and girls playing together. But in the early 1970s, the company released the Homemaker line, which featured exclusively girls in promotional photos: they were constructors from which it was possible to build furniture and a kitchen for dolls. Construction kits, trains, cars and other vehicles were sent to the “boys” category.
By the end of the 1970s, gender separation became even more pronounced.: LEGO has a Scala line – mirrors, bracelets, handbags, which the girls were asked to decorate according to the model. While the boys on the posters of the Technic line were passionate about assembling complex mechanisms – trains, construction equipment and machines. The brand’s assortment still included neutral sets of building blocks, but the emerging vector of gender division did not disappear anywhere in the next fifteen years.
In the first ten years of their existence, they looked neutral in sets: it was difficult to determine their gender by the uniform of a policeman or an astronaut. But by the mid-1980s, during the release of the pirated series, Lego people were clearly divided into men and women with exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics. The male figures received facial hair, while the female figures received a lush bust and a narrow waist.
The period from 1985 to the early 2000s can be called the most sexist in the history of LEGO, because it was at this time that the company began to produce sets for girls and boys with radically different content. In the special girls’ editions, dyed in all shades of pink, most of the designs were simplified; construction was almost completely excluded from them, mainly the sets contained large parts – whole pieces of walls, fences and windows. They were accompanied by figures with an accentuated feminine appearance, in clothes with floral prints and with makeup. The thematic range was extremely narrow: princesses’ houses and rooms, stables, beach holidays, and kitchen. Sets for boys still included a variety of technical devices: cars, robots, spaceships. In the neutral series of LEGO City, there were almost no characters with a feminine appearance; police officers, road workers, doctors, firefighters, and transport drivers were either male or appeared neutral.
None of the LEGO “girls” lines released in the 1990s were really popular, and sales generally fell. The management of the LEGO Group decided to bring in the management of the CEO, who was not the direct heir of Ole Kirk Christiansen. So in 2004, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp came to Lego. He proposed a new strategy: over the next ten years, the company focused on commercial success, complicating and developing gender-neutral lines, as well as ultra-masculine franchises that were especially popular in focus groups. The answer to the question “why?” simple: the surveys were mostly conducted among boys aged 10-12 and their parents, whom the LEGO brand considered its main audience.
But ten years later, the company was again criticized for discounting girls and their true interests. A letter handwritten by 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin went viral in the media.
The company’s response was to change the Friends line: they introduced female scientists who set up chemical experiments, explore space and ancient fossils.
In 2021, the LEGO Group demonstrated that it will not ignore the global agenda. Julia Goldin, director of products and marketing, said that the company intends to get rid of stereotypes in its designers. From that moment on, LEGO stopped labeling toys in the categories “for girls” and “for boys” and divided them into “points of interest”. According to Goldin, the new kits will be developed with the intent to encourage boys to engage in activities that were previously reserved for girls.
By the way, in the same year, the LEGO Group supported Pride month with the release of a collectible set: it included 11 figures made in the colors of the LGBTQ+ community flag, as well as black and brown men, which symbolize the diversity of skin tones.
Collaborations, sets for adults and dozens of different universes
Today, LEGO is a universe in which there are many separate worlds. One of the company’s development trends is a focus on sets for adults that evoke nostalgia, reflect cultural trends and become a collector’s item. Here are just a few of them.
Increasingly, there is a place in the recent history of LEGO collaborations with other brands. So the company released a series of organizers for storing parts in collaboration with IKEA, created an exclusive set in collaboration with Adidas and elements for customizing Levi’s clothing.
Not only toys, but also educational material
Another area that LEGO is actively developing is learning through play. Progressive educators considered construction sets as extremely useful didactic material as early as the 1960s. Teachers used Lego blocks in the classroom, explaining the basics of arithmetic, the basics of geometry, the laws of physics. They noted that construction helps children develop spatial thinking, teaches them to cooperate and think in a project way. In 1980, the company established a department of educational productswhich continues to develop the direction of LEGO Education today.
Head of the network of schools of programming and robotics for children “Pixel”
LEGO is a flagship not only in the field of designers, but also in the creation of kits for teaching the basics of robotics and programming. In my opinion, they have no analogues: they are bright, high-quality, multifunctional. Everything is thought out in them, including a convenient storage system for parts. LEGO Education construction sets help children learn physics, programming, modern technology, speaking and writing skills, and teamwork. Methodological materials for teachers are attached to each set.
At our school, we teach robotics classes using LEGO WeDo 2.0 sets. They are built according to the following scheme: first, the children study a new mechanism, find out where it is used in life, then assemble the model according to the instructions and create a program for the robot themselves. You can see how it moves and make changes to the program if necessary.
Creating models from separate blocks, children compare details and find the main structural units that affect the arrangement of elements. Robotics classes on educational Lego sets not only develop logic and attentiveness, but also strengthen memory and teach you to think outside the box. They form practical skills: programming, information exchange, building algorithms, predicting the result.
LEGO Education recommends educational building sets for children ages 7 and up, but we accept students over the age of 5 as many of those ages are already interested in the basics of robotics. Toddlers are quite successful in completing tasks.
Our school has developed over 80 unique robotics classes – we have significantly expanded the capabilities of the LEGO WeDo 2.0 constructor. and offer the children tasks that are not in the basic instructions. We provide all the necessary materials for classes. LEGO sets and individual parts are still available for purchase from abroad, so we do not plan to stop training due to the brand leaving Russia.
The game that makes the world a better place
The LEGO Group will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2032. By this date, the company has set an ambitious goal: to provide inclusive education for 75 million children. Charitable initiatives are run through the LEGO Foundation, which partners with international organizations and local NGOs, educators and social enterprises, and funds research.
The fund’s projects reflect the company’s attitude to global events. So in 2021, the main initiative was to study gaming techniques that can support children and families during the lockdown.
In April 2022, the LEGO Foundation announced funding for a program to support educational play projects for neurodivergent children. Its goal is to create technologies of playful learning, initially focused on children with ASD or ADHD. Today, such children mostly study according to adapted programs that do not take into account all their features.