298 Paper Proposal

Robert Dallas

Building a Legacy: The Plastic Brick and the Longevity of Lego

The Lego Company was founded in 1932 in Billund, Denmark, and has had its various ups and downs across the span of over 80 years. The company has been a predominantly family-owned business for the duration of its life, passing from generation to generation. Ole Kirk Christiansen, the founder of Lego, initially started the company as a wooden-toy shop during the Great Depression. Godfredt Kirk Christiansen, Ole’s son, took the company in the direction many are familiar with today when he filed for a patent on the interlocking plastic bricks on July 29th, 1958 (Later published October 24th, 1961).[1] My research uses Ole’s creation to aid in answering the question of how the Lego Company has succeeded as a toy company, in the face of competition as well as the changing trends in entertainment, both in the physical world and the world of the media. As such, I believe that Lego’s marketing of the plastic brick allowed the company to maintain its place in the world market, continually adapting with the times in order to appeal to enough audiences and individuals to stay afloat as a brand and a company.

While Lego may still exist even in today’s market, the modern day cannot take credit for Lego’s breakthrough in the world market. Lego’s transition to the plastic interlocking brick system allowed it to break out of Denmark and out toward the rest of the world. The two countries that gave Lego the most media coverage during these decades were that of the United Kingdom, and the United States. This is based on the majority of my media sources coming from established newspapers and other media sources from these countries between the 60s and late 80s.[2] I emphasize this period of time over others because Lego seems to have had something of an expansion period during this time, with growing media attention and coverage in primarily the 70s and 80s.

My research will divide the study of Lego and its longevity into three separate sections. The first section will be devoted to the immediate aftermath of the Lego brick patent, covering media and documents from the 1960’s. One of the key sources of this time period is an episode from British television’s Colour Pictorial titled “The Land of Fairy Tales (1968).” Transitioning to the 1970s, this period does not have as much coverage from what I have researched thus far compared to the 1960s and 1980s; however, there is an article that will be addressed on behalf of the decade that comes from the New York Times: “Lego: How It All Came Together.” Analysis of the 1980s will cover the bulk of my research, with two examples of primary sources being articles from The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune discussing Lego’s thriving business and its potential for longevity into today’s market.[3] Predominantly, this information will be retrieved from United States newspaper articles. Based on what has been retrieved and what I have read regarding the coverage of Lego, there seems to have been a significant boom in the popularity of Lego in America during the decade.[4]

A major issue I have encountered as I’ve researched this topic is a lack of sources outside of newspapers. This seems to be a combination of a lack of interest in covering Lego as a topic of scholarly discussion (evidenced by almost no scholarly texts using Lego as a medium of study), and Lego’s apparent refusal to publicly release a majority of its old advertising and media (evidence comes from the fact that none of their corresponding websites have access to a large quantity of archival material). As such, secondary sources for this research will include other brands such as Tyco and Hasbro, along other entertainment companies that have been covered by Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and similar sources as they appear.[5] The objective of these secondary sources will be to build a layout of the competition and hurdles that the Lego company had to overcome as it placed itself in the world market.

Ultimately I hope to paint a better picture of the scale at which Lego was operating during this time period, and that this research will provide the reader with insight as to why the Lego Company is still in business to this day.



Primary Sources

“The Land Of Fairy Tales” Colour Pictorial. British Pathé. United Kingdom, 1968.

Christiansen, Godtfred Kirk. Toy Building Brick. U.S. Patent 3,005,282 filed July 29, 1958, and issued October 24, 1961, https://patents.google.com/patent/US3005282.

Chicago Tribune, Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.exproxy.umw.edu/.

New York Times, Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.umw.edu/.

Resnik, Alan J, Harold E Sand, and J. Barry Mason. “Marketing Dilemma: Change in the ′80s.” California Management Review 24, no. 1 (1981): 49-57.

Washington Post, Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.umw.edu/.

What it is is Beautiful. 1981. Advertisement. Interlego A.G., United States, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5371a0bfe4b05dd13820776b/t/5372d700e4b0a52017d86d34/1400035147340/1981+Lego+Ad?format=1000w.


Secondary Sources

“A Revival for Makers of Classic Toys.” New York Times. March 9, 1988. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.umw.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/110588154?accountid=12299.

Bjerager, Erik. “Denmark’s Lego Challenges Imitators of Its Toy Blocks Across Globe.” Wall Street Journal. New York: Dow Jones & Company Inc., 1987.

Caillois, Roger. Man, Play, and Games. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1961.

Clark, Beverly Lyon., and Margaret R. Higonnet. Girls, Boys, Books, Toys : Gender in Children’s Literature and Culture. Johns Hopkins Paperbacks ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Cross, Gary. “Time, Money, and Labor History’s Encounter with Consumer Culture.” International Labor and Working-Class History 43 (1993): 2-17.

Cross, Gary. “Valves of Desire: A Historian’s Perspective on Parents, Children, and Marketing.” Journal of Consumer Research 29, no. 3 (2002): 441-47.

Cross, Gary. Kids’ Stuff : Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Demick, Barbara. “Tyco Declares War in ‘Legoland’: Block Blocs Sue and Countersue as Danes Fight Knockoff.” Washington Post. April 19, 1987. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.umw.edu/.

Fass, Paula S. “How Americans Raise Their Children: Generational Relations from the Revolution to the Global World.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge 159, no. 1 (2015): 85-94.

Fass, Paula S. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood : In History and Society. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.

Fass, Paula S., and Michael Grossberg. Reinventing childhood after World War II. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Katz, Phyllis A. “Toys to Grow On.” Feminist Teacher 1, no. 4 (1985): 29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40545563.

Ketchum, William C. Toys & Games. Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Illustrated Library of Antiques. New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 1981.

Pursell, Carroll W. From Playgrounds to PlayStation : The Interaction of Technology and Play. 2015.

Sutton-Smith, Brian. The Ambiguity of Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.


Background Sources

“The Greatest Toys on Earth: Lego Doesn’t Need Flash High-Tech Effects to Keep Kids Happy”. Report on Business Magazine. Vol. 7. Toronto: The Globe and Mail, 1990.

“World wire: Lego’s sales in U.S. fall”. Wall Street Journal. New York: Dow Jones & Company Inc., 1995.

Anonymous. “Lego and the Importance of Marketing: From Little Bricks Gr”. The Economist. London: The Economist Intelligence Unit N.A., Incorporated, 1988.

Burnside, Amanda. “Lego Leapfrogs Ahead”. Marketing. Suppl. Windows for Marketers. London: Haymarket Business Publications Ltd., 1994.

Darwent, Charles. “Lego’s Billion-Dollar Brickworks”. Management Today. London: Haymarket Business Publications Ltd., 1995. 64.

Frank, Robert. “Toys: Facing a Loss, Lego Narrates a Sad Toy Story”. Wall Street Journal. New York: Dow Jones & Company Inc., 1999.

Gofton, Ken. “The New Image Builders”. Marketing. Vol. 25. London: Haymarket Business Publications Ltd., 1986.

Kashani, Kamran. “Beware the Pitfalls of Global Marketing. Harvard Business Review. Vol. 67. Boston. October, 1989.

Kestin, Hesh. “Nothing like a Dane”. Forbes. Vol. 138. New York: Forbes, 1986.

Meeks, Fleming. “So Sue Me”. Forbes. Vol. 142. New York: Forbes, 1988.

Pereira, Joseph, and Cacilie Rohwedder. “A Bee Sees: Block by Block, Lego Is Building a Strategy For the Interactive Age — Toy Developed With Help From MIT Has Senses And a Brain; Will It Sell? — `I Wouldn’t Call It Playing’”. Wall Street Journal. New York: Dow Jones & Company Inc., 1998.

Redhead, David. “Packaging and Design: Pack Attack”. Marketing. London: Haymarket Business Publications Ltd., 1990

Serwer, Andrew E. “Lego to construct U.S. theme park”. Fortune. Vol. 127. New York: Time Incorporated, 1993.

Shenker, Israel. “The world according to Lego: 1,200 pieces of plastic provide the foundation for an expanding empire”. Chicago Tribune. July 27, 1988.

Townsend, Larry. “Lego devotees thrill to an interlocking land of their own”. Chicago Tribune. August 23, 1987.




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