All Sorted Ep 45: LEGO Origins Part 3 – The Fall

On an up and down episode of All Sorted Jeff and James look at the rise of LEGO:

 

In case you missed them, listen to the other parts of this series:

1979

  • Fabuland is released.
  • Scala, a customizable line of jewelry, is released.

1980

  • LEGO establishes the Educational Products Department.
  • LEGO hires design firm Papermint to develop a LOGO for the Expert Builder line, which they plan to rename, LEGO Technic.

1981

  • First LEGO World Show in Denmark.
    • More than 800,000 LEGO bricks are used to create the traveling LEGO show.
    • A giant LEGO castle is built to be the entrance to the show, and takes over 100 working days to design and build it from 225,764 bricks.
  • Hohenwestedt, Germany renames a street LEGO Strasse to honour LEGO’s first ever foreign sales office, established in 1956.
  • LEGO opens a new decorating, assembly, packing and warehousing plant in Baar, Switzerland.
  • The Scala Line is cancelled just two years after being introduced.

1982

  • LEGO celebrates it’s 50th anniversary, 48 years after they officially changed the companies name to LEGO, and 66 years after Ole Kirk first bought his wood shop.
  • LEGO South Africa is established.
  • The LEGO Fiction department established.

1983

  • LEGO hos grown to 3700 employees worldwide.
  • Duplo Baby launches

LEGO McDonalds

1984

  • LEGO begins to face increased competition by copy-cat brands that are rolling out now that the LEGO “stud and tube” patent has expired.
    • Tyco Toys introduces the Tyco Super Blocks, a clone of LEGO manufactured in China and designed to sell at a fraction of the price of LEGO.
    • LEGO attempts to halt Tyco’s Super Block production through a long series of lawsuits, that would eventually cost Tyco over $3 million.
    • LEGO was unable to prevent Tyco from continuing to sell the Super Blocks, but was able to prevent Tyco from using the phrases, “Works with LEGO” and “If you can’t tell the difference, why pay the difference?” in their ad campaigns and on their packaging.
  • LEGO partners with McDonald’s in USA and Canada to include LEGO and DUPLO sets in Happy Meals.
    • Duplo sets, for kids under 3 include, a Bird, and a Boat with Sailor
    • The Lego sets include, a Truck, a Ship, an Airplane, and a Helicopter.
  • LEGO Brazil is established.
  • LEGO Korea is established.
  • LEGO builds a new factory in Manaus, Brazil
  • LEGO Expert Builder is renamed LEGO Technic.

1985

  • LEGO has now grown to around 5000 employees, 3000 of these in Billund. To put this number in perspective:
    • The town Billund had a population of around 300 people when Ole Kirk started making toys.
    • When Godtfred took over the business in the 50s, the population had hit 500 people.
    • During the LEGO boom years of the 70s, Billund’s population would grow to 2,065 residents, or quadruple the population of 20 years earlier. All of this growth is directly attributed to the growth of LEGO, and now, in 1985, there are more employees working at LEGO headquarters in Billund, than the population of the town itself, as most employees commute an hour or more everyday from larger surrounding cities.
  • Maersk Air begins international flights out of Billund airport, making this airport, built in a town with less than 3000 people living in it, the second largest international airport in Denmark.
  • The LEGO Prize is founded.
    • An award of DKK 750,000 is awarded to Save the Children, UK for exceptional efforts on behalf of children.
  • LEGO establishes a procurement department in Korea.
  • LEGO begins working with Professor Seymour Papert at M.I.T.
    • Prof. Papert co-developed the Logo programming language, designed as a tool to improve the way children think and solve problems.
    • Prof. Papert’s book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (Basic Books, 1980) advocates student-centred, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge through hands-on projects.

1986

  • Godtfred Kirk Christiansen resigns as chairman of the board of LEGO System A/S and LEGO Overseas and Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen takes over.
  • LEGO Fiction is renamed LEGO Publishing.
  • The Technic Figure debuts.
  • Light and Sound bricks debut.
  • Technic Control sets debut, allowing users to hook their builds up to a computer to control the motors and lights. These would be the first attempts at creating LEGO robotics building systems.

1987

  • LEGO has grown to over 6000 employees.
  • LEGO Products are now selling in 115 markets.
  • The LEGO office in South Africa is closed.
  • The LEGOLAND Monorail opens at LEGOLAND Billund.

1988

  • LEGO opens a new factory in Billund, dubbed Kornmarken due to it’s street address.
  • The first official LEGO World Cup building championships are held in Billund in August.
    • 38 children from 17 different countries take part.
  • LEGO Canada is established.
  • LEGO begins to manufacture and distribute their own clothing line.

1989

  • The educational products department changes its name to LEGO Dacta.
    • The word “dacta” derives from the Greek word “didactic”, meaning “the study of the purpose, means and substance of learning and the learning process”.
  • Dr. Seymour Papert becomes LEGO Professor of Learning Research.
  • The first LEGO Dacta Centre opens in LEGOLAND, giving children a chance to learn while they play in the theme park.
  • Ole Kirk Kristiansen is inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.
  • LEGO Futura adds an office in Boston.
  • The last of the “Classic” lines, Pirates, is released.
  • Godtfred Kirk Kristiansen celebrates his 70th birthday on July 6th.

1990

  • LEGOLAND Billund sets a record on September 4th, 1990 as they surpass one million visitors in a single year for the first time at
  • LEGO Malaysia is established.
  • LEGO Publishing is renamed LEGO Licensing as LEGO.

1991

  • The Hotel Vis-a-Vis in Billund gets renovated and renamed Hotel LEGOLAND.
  • LEGO now has 7,550 employees.
  • The number of moulding machines in the five LEGO factories reaches 1,000.
  • LEGO Futura adds an office in and Tokyo

1992

  • Two LEGO world records are set:
    • The longest LEGO railway line constructed, measuring out at 545 meters (1,788 feet) of LEGO rails with three model locomotives.
    • The world’s largest LEGO Castle is built on Swedish television. Built from more than 400,000 LEGO bricks, the castle clocks in at 4.45 m x 5.22 m (14.5 x 17 feet).
  • The Second LEGO World Cup Final is held in Billund in August:
    • 32 children from 11 countries participate.
  • LEGO Japan is established.
  • LEGO Hungary is established.
  • LEGO makes their first attempt at cracking the Chinese market.
  • LEGO has their first Show in Russia.
  • The LEGO Imagination Centre is opened in Mall of America.
  • This year would represent the high point in Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen’s reign as from this point on, LEGO profits would decline year to year.

1993

  • LEGO builds a massive DUPLO factory in Willisau, Switzerland.
  • The 1960 license awarded to textile manufacture Courtaulds expires, paving the way for LEGO to set up their own sales organization, Lego UK Ltd.
  • LEGO reopens their sales office in South Africa.
  • In co-operation with the department store GUM, a massive LEGO build event takes place in Moscow’s Red Square.
  • LEGO Kid’s Wear launched.

LEGO UNHCR Minifigure

1994

  • The United Nations Refugee Agency launches a very successful worldwide ad campaign featuring images of LEGO minifigures.
  • LEGO Mexico is established.
  • The first ever LEGO TV campaign starts in China.
  • LEGO begins using e-mail to speed communication between LEGO Japan and Billund.
  • LEGO now employs 8,880 people world-wide.
  • Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen is appointed Knight of the Order of Dannebrog.
  • LEGO Belville debuts.

1995

  • LEGO events and exhibitions take place in:
    • Latvia
    • Peru
    • Hungary
    • Switzerland
    • Denmark
    • Greenland
    • United States
    • Canada
    • Italy
    • Ecuador
  • Weekly LEGO programs air on national television in Latvia and Lithuania.
  • LEGO Belgium and LEGO Netherlands join to become LEGO Benelux.
  • LEGO Futura grows to more than 240 employees.

July 13th, 1995

  • Godtfred Kirk Christiansen passes away.

LEGO DOT COM 1996

1996

  • lego.com is launched.
  • SPU Darwin is established to work on the development of software based on and related to LEGO products.
  • LEGOLAND Billund has seen more than 25 million visitors since its opening.
  • LEGOLAND Windsor, the first LEGOLAND family park outside Denmark, opens on March 29.

LEGO Technic Barcode Multi Set

1997

  • Set 8479: Barcode Multi-Set is released, allowing you to build a garbage truck from the included CD-ROM instructions, as well as a programmable bar-code reader that allows you to activate the different functions on the build, such as move the front claw, or tip the garbage bin.
  • LEGO Island, the first LEGO video game is released.
  • The LEGO Imagination Center is opens in Disney Village, Florida.
  • The first LEGO MINDSTORMS Learning Center opens at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
  • Consumer Service Centre Billund and Consumer Service Centre Americas are established.
  • Over 300,000 children participate in a LEGO event in Moscow.
  • LEGO Kids Wear shop opens in Oxford Street, London.
  • LEGO SCALA makes a comeback as a direct Barbie competitor with fashion dolls and simply built doll houses.

1998

  • For the first time ever, the LEGO Group faces a deficit and is forced to lay off 1000 employees.
  • In May there is an urgent recall of the LEGO PRIMO Ladybird rattle from end-consumers and retailers after it is discovered that there is a risk of it lodging in small children’s throats.
  • ZNAP is released. It would be cancelled the next year.
  • The brand statement “Just Imagine…” is introduced into the LEGO universe.
  • A new LEGO logo is presented. It is a graphically “tightened” version of the logo used for the past 25 years.
  • Japanese emperor Akihito and the empress Michiko visit LEGOLAND Billund.
  • LEGO releases the set that would go on to sell more units than any other LEGO set, LEGO MINDSTORMS.
    • Developed in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab, and named after Prof. Papert’s 1980 book, this set would go on to sell over 1 million units.
  • LEGO also releases the following software titles this year:
    • LEGO Creator
    • LEGO Chess
    • LEGO Loco

1999

  • The LEGO Group undergoes restructuring. This results in the loss of 1000 more jobs.
  • LEGOLAND California opens in Carlsbad, southern California.
  • The LEGO brick is named as one of the “Products of the Century” by Fortune Magazine.
  • LEGO World Shop opens on the internet.
  • The first LEGO store opens in the Bluewater centre in Dartford, London, England.
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System 1.5 is released.
  • LEGO signs an agreement with Lucasfilms for the right to produce sets based on Star Wars

2000

  • The British Association of Toy Retailers names the LEGO brick “Toy of the Century”.
  • The company mission and fundamental beliefs are being revised to “Children are our role models…”
  • The LEGO Group runs a DKK 1 billion deficit.
  • The LEGO Group signs a partnership deal with Warner Bros. relating to the launch of LEGO Products based on Harry Potter’s magic universe.
  • The LEGO studios line launches with the Steven Spielberg MovieMaker Set.
  • A new LEGO factory opens in Kladno, Czech Republic.
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System 2.0 is released in Japan.

2001

  • LEGO closes their Baar, Switzerland decorating, assembly, packing and warehousing plant.
  • More LEGO software is released:
    • LEGO My World
    • LEGO Island 2 – The Brickster’s Revenge.
  • LEGO Serious Play, a powerful tool designed to enhance innovation and business performance is unveiled by the ironically struggling company.
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System 2.0 releases in the rest of world
  • LEGO Mindstorms Robot “Jitter” is sent into orbit around the earth with the International Space Station.

2002

  • The LEGO Group changes their brand statement to “Play On”.
  • The LEGO DUPLO brand is replaced by the LEGO EXPLORE brand covering all pre-school activities.
  • LEGO Brand Retail stores open in:
    • Cologne, Germany (September)
    • Milton Keynes, England (November)
    • Moscow, Russia (December).
  • LEGOLAND Deutschland opens at Günzbrug, Germany.
  • The Billund Airport opens a new passenger terminal.
  • Galidor, perhaps the single most hated LEGO theme ever created, is launched.

2003

  • Minifigures in licensed LEGO sets begin to shift from yellow to a more “realistic” skin tone.
  • The LEGO Group signs the UN Global Compact initiative, committing to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies.
  • “CLIKITS” – a new jewellery design system for girls is released.

2004

  • The LEGO Group announces the results of 2003 – a huge deficit.
  • Owner and CEO Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen heads up the building of an action plan to turn around the company.
    • In October he appoints Jørgen Vig Knudstorp as new CEO of the company.

On the next episode of All Sorted:

We see if JVK can turn around the ailing company, or is LEGO a relic from a simpler time that needs to head to the dust-bin of toy history, like hoop and stick, and Tiddly-Winks?

Finally, we ask:

  • Are modern children just not into playing with analog toys in a digital world??
  • How can LEGO be struggling so bad now that their buildings stopped burning to the ground?
  • Did we miss anything important about these declining days of LEGO?

Let us know. Please leave a comment, or hit me up on twitter, I’m @StillSorting.

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