In 1952‑53 there are plans to expand the factory in Billund, Denmark, in order to boost production capacity. To test the economic viability of the plan, it is necessary to explore new markets with a view to expanding sales. Godtfred Kirk Christiansen therefore visits Norway, Denmark’s neighbour to the north, to examine the prospects of exporting to that country.
Ban on import of toys
In the austere post World War II years, Norway has placed tough restrictions on the import of toys and other goods. It is therefore impossible for the LEGO Group to export LEGO® products directly to Norway. Instead, the LEGO Group signs a licence agreement with a plastics manufacturer in Oslo, Svein Strømberg. The deal entitles Svein Strømberg to borrow molds and tools from the LEGO Group in Denmark in order to set up production of LEGO products in Norway. At the same time the LEGO Group and Svein Strømberg establish a new jointly owned company, Norske LEGO A/S, whose task will be to collaborate on production and to market and sell LEGO products to Norwegian shoppers.
Norske LEGIO A/S
A limited company, Norske LEGO A/S, founded in 1953, has just started business when it receives a visit from a Norwegian toy manufacturer named Leo Goldman. He makes various toys under the name of “LEGO” – formed from the first two letters of his first and second names. Leo Goldman offers to sell the right to use the word “LEGO” in connection with the company name, Norske LEGO A/S. But instead the new company chooses to change its name to Norske LEGIO A/S. The name “LEGIO” is reputedly chosen on the inspiration of the LEGO Group founder, Ole Kirk Kristiansen, who in his 1934 search for a company title preferred the name LEGO – a contraction of the Danish words “Leg Godt” (Play Well) – to LEGIO, with its implication of the words “Legion of toys”.
Production and sale of LEGO products in Norway
The first LEGO bricks – bearing eight, six, four or two studs – were produced and sold in Norway in October 1953. In 1953‑54 the big sellers were the Ferguson tractor with implements and the Chevrolet truck range. Norske LEGIO A/S also produces other LEGO toys such as lorries, vans, LEGO doll’s houses, small Russian dolls, The Magic Family, small clown heads called LEGO Rudolf and a range of model ships: LEGO Skutegalleri (LEGO Ship Collection) – all in plastic.
In the 1950s, Norske LEGIO also manufactures and markets toy products from toy companies other than the LEGO Group. One example is TEKNO cars, sold in Norway under the MECLINE brand name.
Setting up a LEGO sales company
In the early 1960s, the Norwegian government removes import restrictions on toys, and Godtfred Kirk Christiansen terminates the existing business agreement with Svein Strømberg & Co. A/S. The two sides negotiate the purchase of Norske LEGIO A/S, now one of the leading toy wholesalers in the Norwegian and Swedish markets. LEGO products account for 30% of the company’s sales – the remaining 70% comprises Meccano, Bambola, TEKNO and Dinky Toys. Negotiations break down, however, and it is decided to set up a LEGO sales company in Norway similar to the Group’s international companies that have been operating in Europe since 1956.