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  • Surprising discovery about Godtfred Kirk Christiansen revealed on his 100th birthday


    Sara Skahill

    This article was written by Mads Klougart Jakobsen, Manager, Internal Communications, and first appeared on the employee-only LEGO web. With his permission we can share the story with you, and you are welcome to share it with your community.

    100 years ago, today, former LEGO® owner and managing director Godtfred Kirk Christiansen was born. His influence on the company and the success of the LEGO system in play is undeniable, but brand-new research done by our historians in LEGO Idea House shows that his influence on the LEGO brick and the company is even greater than we initially thought.

    milestones.png.9785b956d78860fe1fc7fdb58a2f042e.png“For decades we have been unable to give a precise answer to the question of how the LEGO brick was developed, and who was the mastermind behind the design. We have been convinced that it was a lengthy development process carried out by a team of LEGO employees in the mid to late 1950s. Thanks to newly-discovered material, we have found out that Godtfred actually played a pivotal role in developing the LEGO brick that people all over the world love today,” explains Signe Wiese, Corporate Historian from LEGO Idea House.

    Here is the never-before-told story of the development of the iconic LEGO brick:
    It’s January 23, 1958. Three men are sitting in a LEGO office in Billund. The three men are Godtfred Kirk, his brother Karl Georg (presumably) and Axel Thomsen, head of LEGO sales office in Germany.

    The latter explains that he’s getting complaints from his customers in Germany about the fact that models built with the company’s plastic building bricks are lacking stability and clutch power.

    The problem is discussed at length, and several ideas and solutions are put forward. At some point, Godtfred finds a piece of paper with circles on, and starts to sketch the different ideas for a new brick design. That same day, Godtfred hands the sketch to Ove Nielsen, then head of the LEGO moulding shop. He is instructed to make a sample of the new brick design with two inner clutch tubes.

    20200701102438335_0001.thumb.jpg.93fdaeca03de3085e02b5806ef09d975.jpg
    One of the first sketches of the design with two inner clutch tubes.
     

    The following day, Godtfred brings his sketches and samples to the office of patent agency Hofman-Bang & Boutard in Copenhagen for them to get started on the work of applying for a patent. However, on his way home to Billund, he ponders over the idea of creating a new design for a brick with three inner clutch tubes instead of two. When he reaches Billund, he has come to the conclusion that three tubes will work better than two, because it will provide even better interlocking action.

    He has Ove Nielsen create a new brick sample by cutting up and gluing together existing elements. This new three-tube design is then sent to the patent office with express courier. Only a few days later, on January 28, 1958 at precisely 1.58 pm, the LEGO Group files the application for a patent for a new type of building system. A system in which two or several interlocking plastic building elements can be put together in a great number of mutually different positions – or as it is more widely referred to: The patent of the LEGO brick.

    “We’re now able to conclude that it took no more than five days to develop and patent the design of the LEGO brick, and we can also conclude that the mastermind behind this everlasting design was none other than Godtfred himself. I can’t find a more fitting way to celebrate his 100th birthday,” smiles Signe.

    05621.thumb.jpg.3688bacfafd3fced0bc00e8bee18b385.jpg

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    Wow, only five days? I remember seeing that sketch of the inner tubes at the latest LEGO House Live Tour! Thank you for sharing this article with us.

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    "However, on his way home to Billund, he ponders over the idea of creating a new design for a brick with three inner clutch tubes instead of two. When he reaches Billund, he has come to the conclusion that three tubes will work better than two, because it will provide even better interlocking action."

    My Dad told me a slightly different version of this story decades ago. I don't know if there is any truth to it, but it might be worth looking into it further. My Dad was an architect, born in Germany, and he was using LEGO for modeling since the early 70s. He had a deep appreciation for the company, and for Godtfred Kirk Christiansen. I don't think he ever met any of the Christiansen family, as I'm sure he would have mentioned it, but he did know several of the early employees. (All of this of course meant that we had tons of LEGO at home! :D )

    He told me about the issue with early LEGO not having enough clutch power, and the meeting to solve the problem, like it's mentioned in the article. What he added though is that when Godtfred Kirk Christiansen was pondering about how to improve the LEGO brick, at some point he was walking on a muddy path, and he noticed how the grooves on his shoes/boots stuck to the mud and created a strong bond. This was like a light bulb moment that gave him the idea of using inner tubes for clutch power.

    Again, I don't know if this part of the story is true or not, but this is what I heard from my Dad. He told the story several times and used it as an example of the brilliance of Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, and also as an example of inspiration that may come out of nowhere if we just remain quiet and listen. My Dad also used nature for inspiration and always strived to listen to nature and make his structures fit in harmony with the surrounding landscape. Unfortunately, he passed away last year, so I can't confirm any more details.  

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    It' s amazing to discover how the mind of a person works, how even in the way back he was still thinking yo improve the design and tooked such a deccision to change it completely.

    No risk, no gain!

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    Thank you Sara Skahill! I shared it with my community this morning. It would be nice to read an interview also written of the current managers who told a bit of history of the company; I would like and I would be fascinated. ♥️

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    Whoa! This is a great discovery! Definitely something to keep safe.

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