The Meaning Behind Lego: “Play Well” for 90 Years and Counting

In 1932, Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen started creating wooden bricks as toys for his children. Little did he know that this humble beginning would lay the foundation for a toy empire. Together with his son and business partner Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, they transitioned from wooden bricks to plastic ones in 1949, selling them under the name “Automatic Binding Bricks.” The company was later renamed Lego, a brand that has become one of the most beloved and successful toy brands in history. Surprisingly, many people are unaware of what the name Lego actually means.

What Does “Lego” Mean?

The word Lego comes from two Danish words, “leg godt”, which translates to “play well.” Interestingly, in Latin, it also means “I put together,” which beautifully captures the essence of the brand. While Ole Kirk Christiansen considered the alternative name “LEGIO” (meaning legions), he ultimately chose Lego because it represented high-quality play and a commitment to children’s development through play. The name was inscribed onto every Lego brick, a reminder of the brand’s dedication to providing a toy that encourages imagination, creativity, and joy in every child.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, carrying on his father’s mission, believed in creating a toy that would prepare children for life, nurturing their imagination, creativity, and the joy of creation that resides within every human being. Today, Lego products are sold in over 130 countries, with branches spanning five continents and employing approximately 23,000 people.

From Humble Beginnings to a Global Phenomenon

However, the Lego brand started from very humble beginnings. In 1916, Ole Kirk Christiansen opened a carpentry shop where he sold various furniture items, such as ladders and stools. Unfortunately, in 1924, a fire, accidentally started by his sons, destroyed everything, including their family home. Undeterred, Christiansen saw this as an opportunity to build a bigger shop. However, in 1929, the Great Depression struck, bringing financial hardship to the family. Adding to the challenges, Christiansen’s wife passed away in 1932, forcing him to lay off many staff members.

Money was tight, and Christiansen had to find affordable products that people would buy. Among these inexpensive wares were cheap toys. Initially, it was a struggle, and Christiansen even went bankrupt. However, when his siblings offered him a loan on the condition that he stopped selling toys, he refused. During this time, he discovered his true talent as a toymaker, and his work began to gain recognition and sell.

By the 1940s, Christiansen’s creations had garnered a national fanbase. Even today, his bestselling duck on wheels, with a beak that opens and closes, continues to be treasured by vintage collectors. However, his journey was not without challenges. In 1942, Germany occupied Denmark, and another fire destroyed his entire factory. Yet again, Christiansen saw an opportunity to rebuild and expand his business. After World War II, with many trade materials in short supply, companies turned to plastic as an inexpensive alternative.

One significant manufacturing method that emerged was plastic-injection molding, where melted plastic is placed in a mold to create specific shapes. However, Denmark had banned its commercial use due to shortages until 1947. Despite this, Christiansen bought his first molding machine in 1946, conducting experiments to create new kinds of toys. In 1949, the company introduced the first iteration of the Lego brick, known as the Automatic Binding Brick. These unique self-locking bricks were inspired by the designs of the British company Kiddicraft, for which Lego had permission to use at the time. In 1981, Lego officially acquired the rights to these designs.

A System of Play and Resilience

Tragically, Ole Kirk Christiansen passed away in 1958. Soon after, his son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, introduced a “System of Play,” which revolutionized the Lego experience. This innovative concept centered on the idea that all Lego bricks should connect to each other, allowing for endless creativity and play. The System of Play became the foundation of Lego’s success.

However, just five years after launching the new system, tragedy struck again. A devastating fire ravaged the entire wooden toy inventory, prompting Lego to cease the production of wooden toys and focus solely on plastic. Despite the setbacks caused by three fires, Lego continued to persevere and grow, eventually becoming the powerhouse it is today.

“Play Well” – A Legacy of 90 Years

In 2022, Lego celebrated its “90 years of play.” The current owner, Kjeld Kirk Christiansen, is the grandson of the founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen. At the event, Thomas Kirk Christiansen, Chairman of the Lego Group, spoke about the legacy of play in the company’s history, saying, “When my great-grandfather founded the company 90 years ago, he recognized that play could change the lives of children. It brings families together and helps children develop skills that enable them to reach their full potential.”

Despite starting with a small workshop and limited resources, Ole Kirk Christiansen dreamt big, aiming to ensure that as many children as possible could experience the incredible benefits that play brings. Whether in 1932, 2022, or even on Lego’s 100th Anniversary in 2032, the company remains committed to continuing Ole’s legacy by helping families worldwide to “play well.”


Similar articles