LEGO

Inducted 1998

Named “Toy of the Century” in 2000 by both Fortune magazine and the British Association of Toy Retailers, LEGO blocks have delighted generations of kids and their parents. In 1949, Ole Christiansen, a Danish carpenter, created a set of interlocking red-and-white “Automatic Building Blocks"—LEGO bricks. In Danish, leg godt means “play well.” Educational theorists and developmental psychologists, especially those who follow Jean Piaget, find LEGO bricks an ideal toy, one that proves how children are not simply passive sponges soaking up impressions. Rather, say the experts, children “construct,” organize, and reconfigure experience into “knowledge structures”—portable theories that explain, provisionally, how the world works. In 1958, the LEGO company patented bricks with small interlocking studs and tubes that permitted two blocks to join in 24 different ways. Just six blocks could combine in 102,981,500 ways! Eventually, the original blocks evolved into 28 different “play systems” allowing children to incorporate small cars, street maps, trains, and more into their constructive play. Purists charged that these more specific LEGO toys left less creative room. Yet, LEGO toy sales increased. Over the last 60 years, the company has made more than 320 billion individual bricks. That equates to 52 for every person on the planet.