Brick by Brick: The History of LEGOLAND
Posted by Staff on Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
With the recent opening of Legoland Florida, the total number of Legoland parks has been bumped up to five. Legoland Florida is the second Lego theme park to open in the United States and is now the largest of all the Legoland parks. The focus of this article, however, is the first ever Legoland, which is located in the hometown of the legendary toy bricks, Billund, Denmark. Legoland Billund opened in 1968 and since then has become Denmark’s largest tourist attraction outside of Copenhagen.
The story of Legoland Billund begins with the toy bricks invented by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund. Christiansen first began producing toys under the name Lego in 1934. At this time Legos weren’t the interlocking plastic bricks that we know today, but wooden toys and blocks built to a high standard of quality that Christiansen believed was missing in most toys. This commitment to high quality toys is reflected in the name Lego, which comes from the Danish “leg godt,”or “play well.” It wasn’t until 1947 that Christiansen first began experimenting with plastic bricks. The interlocking system was introduced two years later in 1949, but it would take another nine years before a patent for the Lego we are familiar with was obtained in 1958. Sadly, that was the same year that Ole died after suffering a heart attack.
Under the direction of Ole’s son, Godtfred, Lego began producing their unique puzzle-like models, rather than just bricks, out of their factory in Billund. It was the factory itself that first inspired a Legoland park. Over the years, numerous Lego sculptures had been added to the exterior of the factory. Godtfred noticed that these colorful statues were drawing a large number of tourists to Billund each year just to stand in front of the factory and look at them. When the number of visitors started to reach 20,000 a year, he hit upon the idea of setting up a more unified collection of Lego displays and billing it as an attraction.
When Legoland Billund first opened its doors to the public in 1968, it was just half the size it is today at 125,000 square feet. In the early days of Legoland, the park was solely an exhibition of Lego models. Tourists came from all over to see miniature models of houses and famous landmarks built entirely out of the small plastic bricks. Even as Legoland expanded over the years, and added a variety of new attractions, this Miniland will always be at the heart of the theme park’s experience.
As of today, Legoland Billund has used over 58 million individual bricks to create not just models of buildings, but also many moving vehicles such as planes, cars, boats, and trains. Since 1968, the park has doubled in size and added many new theme areas such as Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, Legoredo Town, Adventure Land, Lego City, and the Knight’s Kingdom. Not only do these themed areas feature some of Lego’s most popular characters and creations, but they also include rides and other entertainment for people of all ages. Duplo Land, for example, is built with the oversized Lego designed for children under six. Here they will find building stations, slides, and a Duplo Brick train they can ride. Over at the Knight’s Kingdom, you’ll find rides for bigger kids such as The Dragon, a roller coaster which combines a dark ride through medieval Lego scenes with exciting drops.
The next Legoland to open was Legoland Windsor in 1996, followed by Legoland California in 1999, and Legoland Deutschland in 2002. Like the original Legoland in Billund, the heart and soul of each park is Miniland. In addition to landmarks from around the world, each park features many local landmarks built with Legos. No matter what new character or theme is added to the park, there seems to be a never ending fascination with real world people and places built out of Legos. As long as these colorful plastic bricks continue to capture the imagination of our children, there’s no doubt that Legoland will always be one of the top destination for kids.