Since the introduction of the LEGO® System in Play in 1955, focusing on LEGO bricks and their endless building possibilities, the LEGO product portfolio has included city themed products. It is much in the spirit of the 1950s to have an urban setting and this is also reflected in the LEGO universe. Through the 1960s and 1970s the urban focus continues and in the late 1970s it results in the creation of a classic theme we know today as LEGO City.
The LEGO City play theme through time:
LEGOLAND Town: 1978-1989
LEGO Town: 1990-1998
LEGO City: 1999-2002
LEGO World City: 2003-2004
LEGO City: 2005-present
The LEGO Town Plan
The economic growth of the 1950s means that many Danes can afford to own a car. With an increasing number of cars in the streets, there is a growing focus on teaching children how to behave in traffic. With this in mind, the LEGO Group launches the Town Plan in 1955 as a supplement to the LEGO System in Play products (LEGO bricks). The Town Plan is a thin piece of plastic cloth (followed later by a Masonite version) showing a stylized network of streets on which children can arrange their LEGO buildings and cars to create an urban setting. The town plan is created in collaboration with the 1950s equivalent of today’s´ Danish Council for Road Safety and can be supplemented with LEGO street signs, small plastic cars and lorries and miniature police officers to direct the traffic.
Economic growth also means that Denmark is becoming increasingly industrialized and Danish towns and cities grow as people move from a rural to an urban setting. Since the beginning in 1932, the LEGO Group has produced products, which reflect the surrounding society. Inspired by economic growth and the focus on road safety the company places the emphasis on creating products with urban settings. The buildings and cars produced from the mid-1950s, together with the Town Plan, act as very early inspiration of what is now the current LEGO City theme.
Differentiating the System
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, most of the products launched by the LEGO Group have an urban theme. In 1978, current LEGO owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen introduces a new business model called the “System within the System”. With the new model, the LEGO Group starts to further differentiate products and for the first time introduces LEGO play themes as we know them today.
Reflecting the LEGO Group’s focus on urban environments, one of the first LEGO play themes to be introduced in 1978 is LEGOLAND Town. The theme is inspired by the LEGO System in Play products from 1955 and in particular the Town Plan. Among other things, LEGOLAND Town introduces an updated Town Plan in the form of new street building plates. The new plates have roads printed on them and incorporate studs making it possible to build houses directly on the plates to create a genuine urban LEGO environment deeply rooted in the LEGO System.
In 1991 the LEGOLAND name disappears, and the play theme is renamed LEGO Town. In 1999, the name changes again – to LEGO City, which has remained the name except for a brief period in 2003-04, when the theme was known as LEGO World City. Since the launch in 1978, the Town theme introduced instant classics such as police and fire stations. Over the years the town grew to a city, and many more sub-themes emerged – including Airport, Arctic, Coast guard, Harbour, Mining, etc.
With the spirit of the theme stretching back to the mid 1950s it is easy to see why the LEGO City theme is a well-established core LEGO product.