The LEGO Story – How it all started


You’ve probably seen one of these. A Lego brick. But have you ever wondered how it all started, and why it’s called Lego? Actually, the name is much older than this plastic brick. Are you curious? Let me tell you how it all began. (BIRDS CHIRPING) Many years ago, there was a skilled and hard-working carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen. Ole was a respected carpenter with his own company. But times were hard. So he didn’t have much money and had to dismiss his last worker. (DOOR KNOCKS) OLE: Come on in. I’ve closed down the workshop and packed my things. (SIGHS) Thank you. I suppose that I better write you a paycheck. (DRAWER CLOSES) Take care. Well, that was the last one. I just didn’t imagine it would come to this. I know, it’s hard to understand… but at least now it can’t get much worse. But it did get worse. Shortly after Ole lost his wife. But Ole was a special person. He wasn’t the type that gave up. And with the responsibility of his four sons. He had to think of something. (QUACKS) Ole had got an idea, and for him, it never took long to put an idea into action. Ole’s little invention made his boys so happy but he thought, “Maybe he should start making toys.” Ole decided to give it a try. Luckily, he had saved up a lot of wood from the carpentry production. He can now use it to make toys. Time passed by. And even though Ole was a skilled carpenter and had a good eye for quality and detail, sales were very slow. Luckily, one of his sons, Godfrey started helping out his dad after school. Together, they just barely managed to keep up the production. Eventually, word began to spread that wooden toys of the finest quality were being made in the little workshop in Billund. One day, a man drove into town. A man who would change Ole’s future. He was a wholesaler from Fredericia. I’ve heard that you’re making some very nice wooden toys. Well, one does his best. The wholesaler was very impressed with all the wooden toys. And placed out big order before he left. Now there’s finally someone who can see the opportunities in what we’re doing. Look at this. The wholesaler wants to put a lot of our toys into a store for the holidays. It’s going to be a good Christmas this year. But we’ll be busy. Now, there was a lot to do in the little workshop. And Ole can rehire his former workers. Ole only used the highest quality wood, which was handpicked and very carefully prepared. They work day and night to get the order finished. So the wholesaler could get the toys out in stores before Christmas. Is there something wrong, Dad? I’m afraid that we’re in big trouble. In the middle of their work, Ole recieved a letter, saying that wholesaler had filed for bankruptcy and couldn’t buy the toys that he had ordered. But what are you gonna do? What about Christmas? Now we can’t even afford food? I’ll do it. What are you gonna do, Dad? I’ll do it myself. I’ll drive around selling the toys. There was no time to lose. Ole packed the car with all the toys and drove off. (HORN HONKS) Ole was a very good toy maker, but was not a very good salesman. He didn’t like praising himself or talking about how carefully the toys had been made, but he had to keep trying if he was going to sell anything. This is going to be a blast. Is there anything you’re interested in? It looks exciting, but I don’t have a lot of money right now. Maybe we could trade and call it even. Well, I would prefer money, but… In the end, he succeeded in selling all the toys. He didn’t receive as much money as he had hoped. But the family managed, and they had plenty of food for Christmas. Time passed by. But the toys didn’t sell as quickly as they had expected. Ole thought perhaps the company needed a good name. (OLE SIGHS) What should it be? It has to be a short word. I wanted to convey “Playing Well.” In Danish, Playing Well is called Leg Godt. What should it be? What should it be? Yeah, if only I could get some sort of a sign. Lego. As you can see, Ole himself ended up finding a very suitable name. But what he didn’t know was that in Latin the word Lego means “I put together.” The name Lego was well received, and the company’s slowly started to move forward. We have made three thousand crowns this year. And we have more orders than usual, Did you say three thousand crowns? (CHUCKLES) Then you need to see what I’ve been looking at. Even though Godtfred wasn’t comfortable spending money on a milling machine, he could see that it was useful and the quality of work of toys improved. Could you finish the last batch and get it ready for shipping? I will. (TYPEWRITER CLACKING) Dad, Dad, I see a lot of money for the company today! Really? How? I think we could save money in the lacker. It’s like only corporate the ducks twice instead of three times. You, what? Unfortunately, Godtfred’s idea didn’t go over well with Ole. Ole made Godtfred unpack all the ducks himself, give him the last layer of lacker, and bring them back to the train station. Ole believed in high quality and not cheating his customers. When Godtfred returned, Ole explained that that wasn’t the way to create a good brand. This little lesson opened Godtfred’s eyes to the fact that every detail matters. And only the best is good enough. In the late 1930’s, Lego was making a profit. Even when the second World War broke out, they tried to make the best out of a difficult time. It seemed like nothing could go wrong. [Heavy wind] But a stormy night in 1942 changed their luck. [Electrical noises, and wire stretching] [Door opening] “There’s a fire! The workshop is on fire! [Sirens and bells] But when the firemen arrived, they were unable to save the workshop. It burned to the ground, and all the drawings, and models were destroyed. Ole was beginning to lose hope. All that he had worked for was gone, and he almost lost his company. But being responsible for his children and workers inspired him to rebuild Lego. A new factory was constructed. Soon, the production of wooden toys started again. The little company fought its way back into the market. Gradually, the Lego factory began to run smoothly, and Ole started looking for new challenges. One day, he went to Copenhagen to look at a new machine that has just arrived at Denmark. It was a plastic molding machine, and Ole was very excited about it. “Should we buy it?” “It sure is a good bargain, and it will give us a lot of opportunities.” “Well? It does sound interesting, but it is a lot of money.” “I’ll take that as a yes.” [Phone buzzes out] [Music] When the plastic molding machine finally arrived, Ole started making little plastic teddy bears and rattles. But, he still had the plastic bricks he had received at the fair. There was something about them he couldn’t stop thinking about. And even though no one else could see the potential in them, Ole decided to redesign and put them into production. But it was when Lego first launched the grey Fergus and tractor that the plastic toys became a success. Unfortunately, the sales were dropping during the summer. And the company had too many toys in stock. “This can’t be right! Of course our products can be sold the whole year! Not only for Christmas.” Godtfred decided he would go out and sell the toys himself. Godtfred brought his wife Edith as company and moral support. [Train bell rings and car honks] “If you can’t get cash, then um, we need b-butter and eggs.” Well, it wasn’t that bad. Godtfred was a success in his trip around the country, which helped Lego get out of it’s financial crisis. They reached in time just in time for Ole’s birthday party. Ole turned 60, and the whole family was gathered to celebrate with him. [Laughter] “Well, I guess it was a long trip around the country.” “Hey! I got an idea, uh, listen listen! What about picture with the three generations!” Everyone thought that was a good idea, and we were placed on the sofa with all the presents around us. On a business trip to England, Godtfred meet the head of a big shopping center on his way home. They discussed the toy industry, and the conversation would be very important to the future of Lego. “Darn this industry. I just think toys are no good nowadays.” “What do you mean? I think they’re working very well.” “Oh. They work fine, sure, but there’s no system in anything.” “System?” “…System?” “Hmm. There isn’t any system.” “What in the world are you doing Godtfred?” “There isn’t any system. The toys need an idea and a system built around it.” “I wanna put system into play. Children have only been given ready-made solutions.” “They need something different that will strengthen they’re imagination and creativity.” “So you’re trying to put Lego into a system? Interesting…” That same year, Lego started producing the first Lego system of play. Children could now build houses from the Lego bricks. The town plan gave play a realistic town setting. And with this, children learned about traffic safety. My sisters and I could play with the new Lego system for hours. Some people said we we’re the luckiest children in the world, because we grew up in a toy factory. It was a huge breakthrough, and Godtfred tried to sell it outside of Denmark. The system of play was so popular, that my managed to sell it to of my countries. “Look what I just built! ” “That is really nice Kell!” Even though Lego was only meant for building houses, there was still a lot of opportunity. There was just one problem… “I can’t lift it up. It-it keeps falling apart.” That made Godtfred wonder, he wanted to make a way for the Lego bricks stick together. But that was easier said then done. Godtfred noticed that the Lego bricks got a better clutch with tubes inside. Now, it was no longer just bricks, but a whole construction system with endless possibilities. This was ground-breaking for the Lego product. With a child’s imagination, Lego could be anything in the world, over and over again. The imagination is the limit. “Look Dad! Now I can build everything.” Unfortunately, Ole never got to see how successful the little brick actually became. Godtfred was left on his own, and he had to go through another fire at Lego that destroyed most of the wood production. Just like his father, Godtfred knew that he had to try to get the best out of any situation and never give up. Godtfred took the hard times with his head held high. As sales grew, the company also got bigger. He had to think ahead, and he decided not to resume the production of wooden toys, and to only focus on the Lego system. It turned out to be a great decision. Many new models were built and Lego got stronger in the toy industry. “Sir? Which one of these do you think the best?” “Mm, uh, that one.” Even though it got busier at Lego, Godtfred still had bigger plans. Now, he wanted to build an airport, so it would be easier to sell his toys to the whole world. Like father, like son, It didn’t take long to put his idea into action. Only three years later, Billund airport was opened. The many guests and business connections who visited the company always wanted to see the modeling department. Gradually, it got so crowded that it was hard for their employees to keep up their work. “…I think we better wait a while.” Godtfred could see that something had to be done. He needed a bigger place to display the Lego models. “Uh, I don’t want to interrupt, so I’ll just put this package of our new Lego train, uh, on the table.” “Just put it there.” “Train?” “The idea grew quickly from an exhibition room to an amusement park.” “And then, we could have a tower so you could look over the whole park from above! The whole town! ” “It will be a land made out of Lego!” “Lego-Land!” “Well, it looks interesting, but how many visitors are you actually counting on?” “Well, I guess, um, 200… 300 thousand?” [ALL] “300 thousand?!” Even though it sounded like a lot, my dad was actually pretty far off the mark. There were 600 thousand guests the very first year. My family and I were there to greet the guests. We’ve kept up this tradition ever since. Now you know how it all began. Lego wouldn’t be what it is today if it hadn’t been for my grandfather’s sense of quality and search for protection. My father firmly believed in the endless possibilities of the Lego system. I seek to take the Lego idea even further. Encouraging children to explore, experience, and express their own world. A world without limits. And we are still convinced that only the best is good enough. Because children deserve the best.

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