When the LEGO Group launches the LEGO® DUPLO® brick in 1969 it is by no means the first time the company creates a large plastic brick intended for small children. Up through the 1950s and 1960s the company attempts several times to create large bricks, increasingly realizing that large bricks are the gateway to the LEGO System of Play for small children. The aim is to make sure preschool children get the same chance to learn through play as older children.
LEGO plastic building bricks
Simultaneously with the launch of the Automatic Binding Bricks, the forerunner of the LEGO brick, the LEGO Group launches a product called LEGO plastic building bricks, in 1949. These bricks are bigger than the Automatic Binding Bricks and intended for children aged 1-5. They are marketed as “the perfect bricks for day care centers”.
To further illustrate the target group, there is a picture of a toddler playing with the bricks on the packaging. It is not just a random selected child; it is LEGO founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s grandson and current owner of the LEGO Group, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. During his childhood, Kjeld Kirk modeled on several LEGO boxes from the 1950s and 1960s, but the picture on the early set of LEGO plastic building bricks is the very first time he appears on the packaging of a LEGO product.
The plastic building bricks are produced from 1949-55.
With experience gained from the launch of the plastic building bricks the LEGO Group continues its experiments with preschool products. During a visit to the company in the early 1960s, a group of teachers spots a couple of large experimental bricks and expresses their enthusiasm. This sparks off another go at creating a large brick.
One particular brick attracts the attention of the LEGO Group partner on the North American market, the American luggage manufacturer Samsonite. The LEGO Group signs a sales and manufacturing licensing agreement with Samsonite in 1961 covering the Canadian and American markets. The company is very keen on a large eight stud brick measuring 4” x 2” x 1”. Samsonite places its first order for the large bricks, called Jumbo bricks, in early 1964 and at the same time expresses a wish to buy molds to be able to set up production of the bricks. The Jumbo bricks are marketed in Canada until 1970 and in the US until 1971. The following year the licensing agreement with Samsonite is discontinued, and the LEGO Group takes over the production and marketing of LEGO products on the North American market.