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Lego is a classic "plastic building blocks" toy that appeared in Denmark in around 1948 and became the world's favourite toy. The Lego brick was based on an original design by English child development psychologist and inventor Hilary Page.
In the UK, "Lego" (when referring to the "bricks") refers to a quantity of Lego pieces, and British users tend to react with horror to the US convention of referring to a Lego brick as "a Lego", or to the use of "Legos" as a plural.
Standard Lego pieces typically have cylindrical raised pegs on their upper face and a hollow underside, and can be clipped together to make walls and more complex shapes. The proportions of Lego pieces are precisely defined in "metric" units, with five-millimetre-wide pegs arranged on an exact eight-millimetre grid, and with each brick's sides set back from the grid by an additional tenth of a millimetre to allow for clearance and flexing. The side of a "standard" brick is precisely 9.6mm, and for Lego "plates", the corresponding height is exactly 3.2mm (one third the height). These rigid official definitions have ensured that today’s LEGO bricks still fit those from 1958, despite any incidental changes in shape, colour and design that may have taken place over the years. As well as producing more "custom" pieces such as wheels, roof components, trees and the distinctive "Minfigures", Lego have produced a number of more specialised sets and several "themed" series ("Space", "Pirates", and so on). After producing a number of highly successful ranges designed to tie in with existing franchises, notably their "Star Wars" range, Lego went on to develop their own "in-house" theme brands (such as "Bionicle").
"Duplo" (1969-) is a "double-sized" version of Lego aimed at younger children, and has a "rabbit" mascot. Clever design allows a certain amount of interoperability between Lego and Duplo: a "2×2" Lego brick will usually clip onto a single stud on a Duplo brick, and a "4×2" Lego brick will usually clip to a pair of Duplo studs.
Lego Technic (1977-) is designed more for the construction of mechanical models with complex moving parts, and includes more "engineering-based" pieces such as driveshafts and gears. Unlike normal Lego, "Technic" beams tend to be 8 mm on all sides with additional holes instead of studs, giving "Technic" models a "holey" appearance more similar to the FischerTechnik (1964-) and short-lived Philiform (1969-1972) plastic construction sets (and, to a lesser extent, to Meccano). Lego Technic parts, combined with a "programmable brick" developed by MIT Media Laboratory in the 1990s and various motors and sensors formed the basis of the Lego "Mindstorms" kits, for building simple robotic systems.
History and legacy
In 1932, carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen set up a wooden-toy manufacturing business in the village of Billund, Denmark, adopting the name LEGO in 1934 from the Danish "Leg godt", meaning "play well". The company bought Denmark's first plastic injection-moulding machine in 1947 and by 1949 was producing about 200 different wooden and plastic toys, including "Automatic Binding Bricks", the predecessor of the modern Lego brick.
LEGO was introduced in the United States in 1962 in loose sets, with building sets for trucks, planes and ships appearing in 1966. Lego's 1960's US advertising sought to differentiate between Lego's "peaceful" products and the war-inspired toys produced by its competitors, with the availability of brown and green Lego supposedly being deliberately restricted (with the exception of trees and green "grass" baseplates), to make it more difficult to build "camouflaged" military vehicles. Instead, LEGO promised that its products would "develop the child's critical judgment, manual dexterity, and ability to think for himself".
Lego in the Museum
There's not a great deal of Lego in the museum, partly due to the sheer number of different Lego sets produced over the years, partly because most of the main Lego pieces are still currently available and don't particularly need curating in museums, partly because Lego have full-blown theme parks (such as Legoland Windsor) looking after the Lego legacy, and partly because one of the UK's dedicated Lego Stores (complete with large display models) is only about five minutes' walk from the Museum, just off the bottom of Queens Road.
The "historical" piece on display is an simple Lego "house" set, displayed for comparison alongside other contemporary competing "plastic brick" construction sets whose brands have not survived, Airfix's "Betta Bilda" and Meccano's "Cliki.
Lego itself is still going strong, and in 2011, the company's North American sales exceeded one billion US dollars.
Brighton's Lego shop
To get to the Brighton Lego Store, walk directly away from the front of Brighton Station down Queens Road until you get to the Clock Tower. The Churchill Square Shopping Centre will be the large modern complex over to your right. The Lego Store used to be set into the building's front, but is now inside, facing the lower atrium, and near to the lifts and escalators.
- "50th Birthday of the Lego Brick" (lego.com)
- Lego History timeline, 1940-49 (aboutus.lego.com)
- "Brickipedia", a large wiki-based internet resource for Lego users (lego.wikia.com)
- LUGNET - International LEGO Users Group Network (www.lugnet.com)
- Legoland Windsor (legoland.co.uk)
- Bright Bricks, custom Lego design (bright-bricks.com)
Local "Lego" groups and organisations
- Lego Store, Brighton BN1 2TA
- The Southern Lego Train Club (SLTC) UK, homepage
- Legoland Windsor, UK
- The Brickish Association (www.brickish.org) - UK AFOL ("Adult Fans of Lego") group
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Pages in category ‘Lego’
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Media in category ‘Lego’
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