10 Neatest LEGO Facts and Links

LEGO is 50 years old today (precisely at 1:58 pm, actually, when the original patent was filed in Denmark). The plastic toy building brick is everywhere - LEGO has thousands of sets with all sorts of themes, from Star Wars to Harry Potter models. To commemorate the half century mark of the popular toy, Neatorama has compiled a 10 Neatest LEGO Facts and Links:

1. LEGO's Humble Beginnings

The LEGO toy empire got started in 1932 when Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish carpenter, almost went bankrupt. During a depression, he had lost so much carpentry business that he started making wooden toys and selling them from his workshop. Two years later, he named his company LEGO (from Danish words "leg godt" meaning "play well". Incidentally, lego also means "I put together" in Latin.)

Christiansen's first product? A wooden toy duck.

2. LEGO Wasn't the First to Invent Bricks

Ole Kirk didn't invent those LEGO bricks. He was inspired by the "Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Brick" patented by British inventor Hilary Fisher Page years earlier. LEGO's first bricks, called the Automatic Binding Bricks, were released in 1947 and were almost exact copies of the Kiddicraft block.

Many years later, after Page committed suicide over business troubles, LEGO bought all the rights to the Kiddicraft block. (Source: Isodomos)

3. LEGO Patent

In 1961, LEGO was awarded its first US patent for "Toy Building Brick." The design calls for a hollow rectangular bricks with studs on top and a round hollow tube on the bottom. This was a marked improvement, as it allows for the precise "tube and stud" coupling. (source: Google Patents)

4. The First Minifigs

The first minifigures (or minifigs) were released in 1978 for the Town, Space, and Castle playsets. When they were first created, LEGO decided that their (always happy) faces should have only one color: yellow. Minifigs have no sex or race. Actually, they didn't have any arms or movable legs either.

In the 1980s, with the arrival of the LEGO Pirates, new facial features (evil/good/happy/grumpy) were released. In 2003, the company released different skin colors for the LEGO Basketball.

5. LEGO Manufacturing Fun Facts

Every year, about 19 billion LEGO bricks are produced. That translates to 2.16 million LEGO elements are molded every hour, or 36,000 per minute! The LEGO manufacturing process is so precise that only 18 out of 1 million LEGO bricks produced is considered defective.

The melted ABS is struck at a pressure of 25 tons to 150 tons -- depending on the type of brick being made -- with the metal molds. The intense force is important to the process, as it ensures that the bricks are accurately shaped.

Oh, and did you know that LEGO manufactures about 306 million tiny rubber tires every year? That's more than any other tire manufacturers in the world!

Link: The Making of a LEGO Brick, a photo gallery by Joseph Pisani at BusinessWeek

6. The Acronyms of LEGO

Perhaps it's the company's name, spelled in all capital letters, that inspired LEGO lovers to use a multitude of acronyms when they talk about their beloved toy. Here are some examples:

AFOL: Adult Fan of LEGO
BFC: Big Freaking Castle
BURP: Big Ugly Rock Piece
HOG: Hand of God, when you move your minifigs around, this is what they think of your hand
LF and NLF: LEGO Friend and Non-LEGO Friend
LS and NLS: LEGO Spouse and Non-LEGO Spouse (guess which one approves of the LEGO hobby)
MOC: My Own Creation

7. LEGO is Really, Really Popular

Consider these amazing statistics, courtesy of LEGO - Thanks Alisa Weinstein!

- There are about 62 LEGO bricks for every one of the world’s 6 billion inhabitants.
- Children around the world spend 5 billion hours a year playing with LEGO bricks.
- More than 400 million people around the world have played with LEGO bricks.
- More than 400 billion LEGO bricks have been produced since 1949. Stacked on top of each other, this is enough to connect the Earth and the Moon ten times over.
- 7 LEGO sets are sold by retailers every second around the world.
- The LEGO bricks sold in one year would circle the world 5 times.

8. The LEGO Artist

While each LEGO creation is a testament of the builder's creativity, Nathan Sawaya's creations have elevated building with LEGO to an artform. The former corporate lawyer quit his job in 2001 to focus on becoming the world's foremost LEGO artist. Sawaya's art show The Art of the Brick is currently touring North American museums.

Nathan Sawaya posing with his sculpture titled Gray (2006)

Previously on Neatorama: posts featuring Nathan Sawaya.

9. LEGO World Records

Given people's passion when it comes to the toy, it's not surprising that there are many world records set with LEGO, for example:

- World's tallest LEGO tower at 94.3 ft (28.7 m) with 465,000 bricks
- World's Longest LEGO Construction at 5,179.8 ft (1,578.8 m) with 2.9 million bricks
- World's Largest LEGO Image at 870.15 ft² (80.84 m²), with 1.2 million bricks

World's Largest LEGO Image - see the guy in the middle of the 8 ft minifigs? That should give you an idea of how large the image is. Photo: Toy Museum Bellaire

See more LEGO world records at RecordHolders.org

10. The Brick Testament

The Last Supper, Photo: Brandan Powell Smith

Let's end with one of my favorite stories about LEGO: In 2001, Brendan Powell Smith embarked on a project to tell the stories in the Bible using LEGO dioramas. The result was a website called The Brick Testament. Since then, it had grown to have over 3,600 illustrations that retell more than 300 stories.

Ho.ly.crap. The "Brick Testament" actually decided to portray my most comically favourite part of the Bible - the parts of Leviticus describing "Sexual Discharges" and how women are "unclean" for seven days after menstruation, and must present two doves as sacrifice for atonement.

The brickwork is impeccable, and the photography is hilarious. Plus, it covers the biblical version of "Red Wings".
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I remember my little unmovable, unemotional minifigs too! You had to take off their legs in order to have them sit in a chair or vehicle. (I had a little police boat and a cop!)

Eventually we lost their heads and used the little square "onesies" instead. Those were referred to as the no-necks, they were like a sub-species of minifigs.
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Interesting trivia about #9 (record LEGO image)...

The grey-scale center portion of the image was built by Eric Harshbarger, a great LEGO artist, who sadly is doing very little building anymore.

Eric's work was a major influence in pulling me out of my dark age and back into building.

See his post about this mosaic here...

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well im gots a-dizzle the grease and m-dizzle the hood on my side so u can bring ur lil gator and im gunna bring my friends! and well kick ur hind quarters!!
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