Category:Lego before Lego (display)

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25 - Lego before Lego (display)
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"Lego Before Lego: a secret history" is a special display starting on 29th June 2019 at Brighton Toy and Model Museum.

Based on items drawn from the Hatley Lego Collection, the display features early "pre-Lego" wooden toys made by the Lego company, and some of the earlier and rarer plastic brick sets.

This summer we are very excited to have a new exhibition ‘Lego before Lego’, telling the story of the early days of the Lego Company, from its original wooden toys of the 1930’s-40’s up to the popular plastic toys of the 1960’s - when the building brick sets became an essential part of modern childhood.

It includes original toy shop signage, a variety of different scale vehicles including the classic 1:43 Chevrolet lorries, building blocks, farm vehicles, loveable characters and pull-along toys.


1932: Wooden products

Carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen had originally started a carpentry business in (~1917?) in the hope of selling quality furniture, but business was not good, and by 1932, Ole was sufficiently encouraged by the worldwide craze for wooden yo-yos to start over with a company making wooden toys (and occasional other household goods).

The new company was named LEGO in 1934, after a competition among the company workforce (after which Ole declared his own suggestion to be the winner!) A close runner-up was apparently "Legio". "Lego" was reminiscent of the Danish "leg godt" ("play well"), but given the toy industry's habit of naming companies after anagrams of its founders' names, it may not have been completely coincidental that "LEGO" contained the three letters of Ole's first name. Having a name that was only four letters long also made it easier to stencil the name onto the toys.

1947: Wood and plastic

After WW2, the Lego company decided to buy an injection moulding machine to make some of the more fiddly parts of its wooden toys. This arrived in 1947. At this point, much of Lego's range (apart from the fire engines) reflected what children would see in Denmark's agricultural communities - pull-along animals such as cats, dogs and ducks, trucks, and tractors and farm implements.

The Brick

The sales rep for the injection moulding machine company is supposed to have brought a pocketful of samples of the sort of thing one could use the new machine to make, including some of Hilary Page's clip-together Kiddicraft plastic bricks. Lego started making "LEGO Mursten" (LEGO bricks) that were near-identical clones of the Page slotted bricks.

Lego System and 1961 Town Plan Set

After a sales rep told Lego that chain stores liked "System" toys like Meccano, which had lots of follow-on sales, Lego rebranded its bricks as "Lego System", and produced a Town Plan Set including a baseboard with little cars and trees and street furniture, with simple buildings that could be built from supplied Lego bricks. Once the Town Plan Set had got children used to playing with Lego, small accessory packs let them increase the number and range of pieces in their collections.

1958-1964 redesign and expansion

When Lego started exporting the bricks to more demanding foreign markets like Germany, it was felt that the bricks' design needed improving, and in 1958, Lego removed the slots and chose a design that added cylindrical tubes to the underside of the bricks so that every stud was gripped at at least three points. This was followed by dedicated roofing bricks and wheel/axle bricks in 1962, and dedicated doors and windows in 1964, to produce the "core set" of pieces that we'd regard as "modern Lego".

1959: "Lego" brand means means Lego bricks

By the late 1950s, it had also become clear that the success of the LEGO bricks was making the name "LEGO" synonymous with the bricks, so the company took all their other products (wooden/plastic lorries and wooden construction sets) and rebranded them as BILOfix in 1959. After a factory fire in 1960, Lego decided not to rebuild their wooden toy manufacturing capability, and to make Lego bricks their sole business, with Karl Georg Christiansen and Gerhardt Christiansen then turning the Bilofix brand into a separate company.

From this point onwards, "Lego" effectively became the name of the plastic bricks themselves, which were now just "Lego" with no further explanation needed.

Display area

Area 25 is fittingly flanked by two permanent cabinets of construction toys, including the Hilary Page system that Lego was originally based on.

We've also added an external timeline graphic, a ten-inch fixed tablet displaying a slideshow of Lego and pre-Lego history, and holders for colouring-in sheets and coloured pencils.


As of 29th June 2019, the exhibition itself is now complete, with over a hundred exhibits: the online listings here list about half the items.

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