“Play Well” with LEGO at the Museum

Written by Meghan E. Gattignolo 

Earlier this year, the LEGO Group turned 90 years old. These tiny colorful bricks have been a part of our lives for several generations. Read on to learn more about LEGO and how you can make the most of your upcoming Museum visit to celebrate this milestone anniversary. 

Once upon a time… there was a master builder 

Founded in Billund, Denmark in 1932, the LEGO Group toy company was one widowed man’s attempt to survive a worldwide economic depression and other hardships to provide for his family. Ole Kirk Kristiansen was a master woodworker and business owner known for his high-quality craftsmanship. Ole made a living building homes, churches and barns in his community, along with useful household items. However, when the Great Depression caused the price of butter and pork to plummet, the small rural population of Billund couldn’t afford to hire him for building projects. Ole was stripped of his income and had to lay off most of his employees. Just like many of us had to adapt to a new way of working during the recent pandemic, Ole was forced to find new ways to put his skills to use. 

Courtesy of Wikmedia

Legoland in Billund, Denmark
Courtesy of Bobbsled

Leg godt, lego

Even throughout an economic disaster, people still bought toys for their kids – so Ole Kirk Kristiansen became a toy maker. He emphasized the same quality with his toys as he did with his buildings. When his son Godtfred tried to cut costs by skimping on varnish, Ole made him recall the shipment of wooden ducks and finish the job by himself. Ole named his new company LEGO, a shortened version of the Danish phrase “leg godt,” which translates to “play well.”  

After World War II, plastic became available and Ole decided to diversify, so he and Godtfred bought a plastic molding machine. Inspired by the example brick-shaped mold that came with the machine, Ole designed his own brick mold and the LEGO Group soon began producing Automatic Binding Bricks. Years after the name LEGO was chosen, it was pointed out that “lego” is also a Latin word that means “I assemble,” making the name even more meaningful once the company shifted focus exclusively to the plastic bricks after a fire burned down the wooden toy factory in 1960.  

Ole’s son Godtfred took over his father’s reins of the LEGO Group in the 1960s, overseeing a massive growth in the company. Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s family, including his grandson and great-grandson, are still involved in LEGO Group management to this day, carrying on Ole’s legacy.   

LEGO creations on the
Museum’s LEGO wall

LEGO creations on the
Museum’s LEGO wall

LEGO creations on the
Museum’s LEGO wall

Celebrate with us! 

The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center always offers opportunities for our guests to leg godt with LEGO. The Family Art Studio on the Museum’s Lower Level was renovated in 2018 with a generous grant from the Kiwanis Club of Clarksville. Among other features, a 12-foot LEGO wall was installed. Younger visitors can check out the LEGO play table in the newly-renovated Explorers Landing.  

Spend November at the Museum celebrating LEGO’s 90th birthday! In the Family Art Studio, you can collaborate with other master builders at the LEGO wall, design your own minifig and admire the LEGO creations on display in the Inspiration Tower. Also, join Ms. Sue in the Family Art Studio on the last Saturday of November for a fun LEGO-inspired craft!  

The Family Art Studio and Explorers Landing areas are open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am – 4:30 pm and Sunday from 1 – 4:30 pm. 


 The LEGO Group history – About Us – LEGO.com 

Meghan E. Gattignolo

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts.  Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

Becky Wood, Technical Writer, edits each blog post. Maegan Collins, Marketing Communications Manager, prepares photographs and visual images as well as prepares the blog posts for the web. 

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