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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. “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. 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.
Every year millions of kids around the world learn key STEM principles through play with LEGO Mindstorms sets at home and at school. Twenty years ago, most teachers wouldn’t have allowed LEGO bricks into the classroom and the idea that kids could learn through coding and play was not common practice. In todays schools and homes there has been a mindset change in a large part to the creation of LEGO Mindstorms. The LEGO Mindstorms concept was conceived from two initially unrelated events. In 1995, after working in LEGO Education (LEGO Dacta) for almost 10 years, I got permission to set up a new function we called “Home Learning” in LEGO Dacta. I quit the role I had at the time as international marketing manager to become business manager for the new Home Learning function to pursue development of a compelling learning concept for kids, targeting the home learning market in the US initially. Parallel to this, the MIT Media Lab who had been working closely with LEGO Dacta for several years, worked on a concept they called the “intelligent LEGO brick”. They were playing around with a number of pretty cool prototypes. For me to get a much deeper understanding of how kids wanted to learn about new things, we organized numerous focus group discussions across the US. Listening to the kids. Key findings pointed us in the direction of fun, even “hard fun”, making things and “something with technology”. These findings resonated very well with our friends at the Media Lab and at some point during 1996 it was decided to put the “intelligent LEGO brick” at the center of the Home Learning project. The team on our end in LEGO Dacta was taking shape during 1996-1997. Our initial plan was to launch the product in late 1997 - we could not wait to take it to market after the sensation of experiencing the first working prototype of the RCX! But, a few critical incidents delayed us. Some of these challenges are described in the article “Dealing with the unexpected: Critical incidents in the LEGO Mindstorms team” published by David Oliver and Johan Roos in 2003. As we prepared to take the product to market as a never seen before “Robotics Invention System” for kids, we had to come up with a name both for the concept overall and the “intelligent brick”. At a later stage we used the term “obviously LEGO, never seen before” to set the bar for radical type innovation rooted in the LEGO Idea. The product name came out of two considerations. We wanted a name that referenced the mind-boggling user experience rather than the product features. As the purpose of the concept was to enable rewarding learning experiences, we decided to ask Seymour Papert if he would allow us to use the name of his book “Mindstorms” (1980). He agreed. In honor of Seymour Papert, we also considered using the name “Seymour” for the intelligent brick, but eventually decided for the more “techie sounding” name RCX (Robotics Control System) with an X because it sounded cooler. We also decided that the product, which was nothing like a traditional LEGO product (behavioral construction, no building instructions, no main model) had to be accompanied by opportunities for consumers to network and participate in experiences. So, we developed mindstorms.com, LEGO Mindstorms Centers and FIRST LEGO League. Mindstorms.com would eventually be developed out of a very tiny apartment in Manhattan. Eventually the first LEGO Mindstorms Center was sold to the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago based on our shared vision and a foam mockup of the RCX. Nearing the launch date, we also decided that the product could not be sold in traditional toy stores as the USD 100 price point was far above the average price point of USD 30 in the toy market. We also felt that it would not be possible for the average toy store to give the purchase advise necessary. So, we opened new sales channels including CompUSA and Best Buy. Finally, we prepared a PR campaign that had to get the news of what we considered a revolutionary LEGO experience to market. This was a huge undertaking including finding world class agencies, line up the innovation story and create demand for the launch of the product. Announcing the product more than 6 months prior to launch date was against all conventional marketing logic as “everyone would forget about it”. We proved that wrong. We decided to kick of the launch with a teaser from the first LEGO Mindstorms Center that opened at the MSI in Chicago in November 1997. Autonomous LEGO robots were demonstrated (with disguised RCX), and the tech innovation story was told by the MIT Media Lab. These stories drove significant media interest and proved to be a great reference for the main PR event held at the Museum of Modern Art in London in January 1998. The launch event was covered by more than 200 world media outlets and got extreme coverage. We reached more than one billion people during the spring of 1998 and when the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System hit the market in September 1998, it sold out in less than three months with close to 100.000 units. Today, 20 years later, we can look back and look forward at how LEGO Mindstorms continues to develop the builders of tomorrow! MIT Press Release.doc LMS Center General program overview.pdf