A Brief History of LEGO Sets
Ole Kirk Kristiansen, the LEGO founder, started off making wooden furniture, before switching to wooden toys. It was in 1949 that the LEGO Group released what the company has become famous around the world for – plastic automatic binding blocks. In those very early years, the bricks – and associated elements that came along, like windows – were indeed just sold in boxes of blocks.
By the late 1950s, die-cast vehicles and automatic binding blocks were combined, so that children could build a town for the little model cars and trucks to drive around. It was in 1962 that the first LEGO sets fans would recognise as such arrived. They were simple models to build using the pieces and following the instructions, with no die-cast vehicle present.
Tractors, trains, car, trucks, houses and windmills were common in the 1960s. In 1974, maxifigs were introduced to the sets, which allowed the vehicles and locations to interact with people. The precursors to the minifigure arrived the following year in 1975, small statue people with static legs, static bodies and heads with no face print.
It was in 1978 that minifigures arrived, making it the year that LEGO sets as most people understand them were born. Sure, there are a number of sets released each year without minifigures, most notably in the Creator Expert theme. But when most people picture a LEGO set, they picture a model with minifigures.
Town and Space both launched in 1978 along with the minifigures, taking the little characters everywhere from the driving seat of a fire engine to the outer reaches of space. Other themes would follow shortly thereafter, first Castle, then Pirates, before more and more action-adventure themes arrived.
The LEGO sets continued to expand into new worlds and locations, introducing new elements and minifigures as necessary. In 1999, there was another big shift when licensed sets arrived for the first time with Star Wars. This changed everything, with each year bringing a mix of in-house LEGO play themes alongside licensed themes. Now, there are even one-off licensed sets based on properties including The Simpsons, Ghostbusters and Stranger Things.
Fans have influenced LEGO sets, as techniques used by passionate hobbyists are incorporated into models. Studs not on top (SNOT) technique, for example, was used by years for fans before being utilised in LEGO sets occasionally. Now, it appears in almost every instruction book, allowing for the most sophisticated models ever released by the LEGO Group.
In the newest LEGO sets, the designers are looking to incorporate a digital component to interact with the bricks. LEGO Hidden Side sets work in conjunction with an augmented reality game using a companion app, with the screen showing the model as it sits, but with additional animated aspects happening around it.
With thousands of LEGO sets released over the past 70-some years, every fan can build a unique and distinct collection. It is well worth exploring the strange corners of the LEGO universe, as there are plenty of fun, interesting, unique and downright bizarre sets in the back catalogue.