On August 10, 2012 the Lego company celebrated 80 years of making some of the greatest toys in history.
In order to celebrate, Gizmodo was given an exclusive tour of the Billund, Denmark vault where nearly every Lego set in history is housed. What started as simple wooden blocks evolved into the amazing electronic sets, the incredibly sturdy Technics, the many-thousand piece Star Wars sets like the Death Star, and of course the insanely popular Ninjago series that every parent of a child ages 5 to 12 knows way too much about (myself included). The video is a fun little tour shot on what is probably a phone camera, and can be viewed here (we had previously had them embedded in this post, but they have since been made private. Drat.)
Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo reports on his tour, and how it evoked something more profound than he expected:
It was an experience that touched me in a way I didn’t expect. This wasn’t amazement or simple awe. I was already astonished to no end by the tour of the Lego factory. No, this was something else, something bigger than the impressive view of the 4,720 Lego sets inside this lair. These weren’t just simple boxes full of bricks. These were tickets to ride a time portal to emotions and simpler days long forgotten.
I didn’t know that when I was curiously ogling the oldest sets, from the 1950s. Jette was explaining the first Lego sets, obviously enjoying my enthusiasm. “Here’s the wooden box that some shops around Denmark had, usually hairdressers or general stores” she would say while carefully opening it for me to see its contents, simple red and white bricks without tubes, some of them with windows on them, “they contained individual Lego bricks. Back then, parents bought them regularly to their children, so they could keep expanding their Lego system.”
Diaz tells the story of his walk down memory-brick lane, and the one set that brought a flood of memories back to him. “I turned around and I saw what she had in her hands: the Lego Space Galaxy Explorer… And then it hit me. Lift off. Godspeed. Boom.” And suddenly Christmases and faded photos and a million sets he played with alongside his siblings, “Each set a memory, a particular Kodak moment blurred by the occasional teary eye.”
Diaz’s awesome report on his trip to the Lego factory and vault resonated within me as a parent as well. Yesterday I watched my 7 year-old hand over his wadded-up, rubber-banded roll of curly-cued dollar bills for the set he’d been wanting since he’d heard it was “coming soon” to a store near us: Monster Fighters’ Vampyre’s Castle complete with a Lego brick that shoots a little red LED beam into the Frankenstein guy’s head.
Then he took the set to the little antique desk in the corner of my office and sat for hours putting it together by himself, his brother periodically checking in on his progress. In reading Diaz’s article, and watching the videos, I could clearly see why this was all important. Our toys matter, especially the ones we save for, working hard at vacuuming or helping wash the car or feeding the dogs. And even more especially the ones we build ourselves on a hot Saturday afternoon.
Big thanks to Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo for the great nostalgia and the fun tours. Visit Gizmodo and read his fantastic article for a bit of nostalgia yourself. There are a number of great videos in the series, but here you’ll find some great videos on how Legos are manufactured, including how they stamp that signature smiley on the Lego head that my dad calls “the propane tank head”.