When I was five years old, I was given a set of blocks for Christmas. I loved this simple toy. With my imagination and these brightly painted pieces of wood I could build towers to the sky.
When I was six, I was given a set of Lincoln Logs. Although I enjoyed this rustic construction set, I felt it was limited compared to my blocks that allowed for more possibilities.
When I was eight, I received an Erector Set. For those of you too young to know about this toy, it was a collection of metal girders, pulleys, wheels, nuts and bolts, and an electric motor. With this engineering marvel I could build truly sophisticated contraptions. Not to mention, an Imagineer was able to use one of these sets to design “Soarin’.”
LEGO bricks were introduced to the U.S. in 1961 (I was nine). However, by the time they became a mainstream commodity, I had moved past the “toy” stage of my life. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that a friend gave me a set as a gag gift. Little did he know that he was actually giving me something that I would play with for the next fifteen years. But somehow when I moved to Florida, my set was lost in transit and I’ve never replaced it. I miss my LEGO bricks.
Here’s a picture of me looking a bit surprised when caught playing with my LEGO bricks.
A LEGO shop has been a permanent fixture at Downtown Disney for a long time. Over the years, a number of life-size figures, built from these interlocking blocks, have adorned the exterior of the shop. However, as different statues have come and gone, the sea serpent swimming in Village Lake has been a constant feature.
Here’s a picture of a bird about to be eaten by our green and yellow friend.
Recently, the LEGO store closed for an extensive remodeling. When it reopened two weeks ago, a number of Disney inspired statues had replaced the former outside figures. This first sculpture is from Sleeping Beauty. Here we see Prince Phillip atop his horse Sampson, trying to slay Maleficent as the dragon.
Further on we find Buzz and Woody, blasting off from RC Car in the exciting climax of Toy Story.
And finally, we find Snow White visiting the Dwarfs at their diamond mine.
A leftover from the previous figures is a model of the typical family on vacation at Disney World. If you notice, the young boy is dressed in his pirate costume and his sister is a princess.
Unless otherwise stated, Downtown Disney Marketplace and the LEGO shop open at 9:30 daily. On the morning I took these pictures, I arrived at 9:20 to find a group of people already waiting for the LEGO shop to open. I looked around and noticed that no other store had people milling about. This attests to the popularity of the product.
As the clock ticked closer to opening, a cast member was busy filling the outdoor play stations with a collection of LEGO bricks. Here, kids of all ages can build impromptu structures.
The LEGO store is huge and the walls are lined with dozens and dozens of LEGO kits. Numerous displays show guests what the completed product will look like. For the older kids and adults, more complicated kits are available under the TECHNIC label.
In the center of the store is a play station complete with computers. Kids can select different programs and play LEGO games or discover step-by-step instructions on how to build a masterpiece.
One wall of the shop contains several hundred clear plastic bins, each holding a different shape and color of LEGO brick. Nearby are two sizes of cups. Fill the large cup for $14.99 or the small for $7.99. This is a great way to supplement any collection or replace lost pieces.
Although not available at the moment, a separate room will soon be offered to rent for private LEGO parties.
Inside the shop you’ll also find a great photo op with Buzz and Woody.
So where did this outstanding product come from?
Woodworker Ole Kirk Christiansen of Billund, Denmark made his living by constructing houses and furniture for his village and the nearby farms. When the Great Depression hit, he needed to cut costs, so he began creating miniatures of his products as design aids. This eventually lead to him making wooden toys. In 1934, Christiansen named his new toy making company LEGO, which is a contraction of the Danish words “leg” and “godt,” which means “play well.”
Plastic became available in Denmark shortly after World War II and Christiansen purchased an injection molding machine. His first plastic toy was a truck that could be taken apart and reassembled. Meanwhile, the Kiddicraft Company in the U.K. was producing interlocking plastic blocks. Christiansen, and his now partner son Godtfred, obtained samples of the Kiddicraft blocks. They improved upon the design and began selling their own product in 1949. The blocks were called “Automatic Binding Bricks” and were made out of cellulose acetate. In 1953, the bricks were given a new name: Lego Mursten, or "Lego Bricks."
In the beginning, the bricks were not well received. Consumers preferred wooden or metal toys. It wasn’t until Godtfred hit upon the idea of a toy “system” that LEGO bricks began to achieve some success. In 1955, LEGO released its first system, “Town Plan” and sales began to pick up.
In 1961, LEGO wanted to expand sales to North America, but lacked the capital to do so. A deal was eventually struck with the Samsonite Company, allowing them to manufacture and market the product. In 1963, a new, more stable plastic, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS plastic) replaced the older formula. These new bricks are extremely durable as anyone who has stepped on one in their bare feet can attest. Ouch!
On June 7, 1968, the first Legoland Park opened in Billund. The park featured complex models of buildings designed to resemble cities and towns, built entirely out of LEGO bricks. The original park covered three acres, but unprecedented success pushed its boundaries to eight times its original size in the following years. Today, there are four Legoland Parks, the original in Billund, Denmark, a second in Windsor, England, another in Günzburg, Germany, and a forth in Carlsbad, California.
A fifth park is currently under construction on the old Cypress Gardens land located about 30 minutes southwest of Disney. It is scheduled to open in October 2011. For more information, click here.
Here are few astounding LEGO facts:
Approximately 19 billion LEGO elements are produced per year. 2.16 million are molded every hour, 36,000 every minute.
More than 400 billion LEGO bricks have been produced since 1958. There are about 62 LEGO bricks per person of the Earth’s population.
Approximately 7 LEGO sets are sold every second around the world.
Laid end to end, the number of LEGO bricks sold in a year would reach more than 5 times around the world.
There are about 2,350 different elements in the LEGO range; 52 different colors.
In LEGO brick production, only 18 out of every 1 million LEGO elements comes out defective.
LEGO makes 306 million tires a year, making it the world’s largest tire manufacturer. Goodyear Tire & Rubber makes about 200 million.
The LEGO Store at Downtown Disney is worth a visit. The sculptures alone are remarkable and the various kits available are mind-boggling. This store is a lot of fun for adults to browse and the kids will have a blast playing with the samples. LEGO bricks aren’t cheap. Anyone who has priced these plastic blocks knows that they come with a hefty price tag. Be prepared to part with some bucks if you decide to bring your kids (or husband) here.
I need a new set of LEGO bricks.
The previous post in this blog was Transportation and Ticket Center – TTC .
The next post in this blog is Candy.