How did Technic get started? We have been fortunate to talk to Jan Ryaa, one of the founding fathers of Technic back in the 1970s, where he worked with another designer, Erik Bach. At some point, these two stopped treating a brick as simply a brick, and they went to work with no more than their tool kit and some good ideas, and changed a few things.
When the LEGO Group released the first ‘Technical Set’ in 1977, new elements were added to reproduce realistic technical functions. The beams and plates, gears, axles, connectors and special parts, wheels and tyres that were part of Technic were all new in 1977, and all were a result of the approach to model building taken by Jan Ryaa and Erik Bach.
From the initial attempts to create the model machines and mechanical toys central to the Technic idea to where LEGO Technic is today has been quite a journey. This is a fascinating story, highlighting how the Technic concept grew as ideas matured, new techniques were tried, and how kids and adults continually challenged this new way of building.
In the early 1970s, Jan Ryaa was one of the very first LEGO designers to play with the idea of building cars, using large square LEGO Mobil bricks in yellow, red and blue with white cross-axles and cogwheels. These were used for showroom models and were not planned as production models, nor intended for sale.
At some point, Jan got creative and began to cut the bricks, from a proportion of 4x4 to 4x2. This made it possible to make smaller models. Then he met another LEGO designer, Erik Bach, who was trying to go the other way. Erik wanted to build things bigger and make the models more sturdy and stable. Stability is a big problem as scale increases; houses are easy to build big, but model cars (for example) quickly bend under their own weight.
Initially, Jan and Erik tried extending the pegs on the bricks, but that didn’t work. Then they tried snap-bearings, and this proved to be the start of something new. Slowly but surely, they began to build with the new elements, and they started with cars, as these were always popular. Erik Bach was very interested in farming equipment, so it was obvious that they had to build a tractor as well.
In this way, the early days at Technic were a real journey of discovery. Jan and Erik worked together, bouncing ideas back and forth. Jan built a bit, Erik built some more, and projects were allowed to run their course until they could take their inventiveness no further. At some point, decisions were made and the first Technic models chosen, built as mini-models: The car and the tractor, and a year later, a helicopter joined the range.
Driven by their own initiative, the major challenge in almost all their attempts to build a car (or tractor) was to find a way to make the models sturdy and stable. Because they worked from the Mobil products on the market at the time, whatever they came up with was readily accepted and they could continue inventing and playing.
As the seventies progressed, Jan’s and Erik’s ways separated, as they took on different tasks. Erik continued developing elements, and Jan concentrated on building models. One of the first results from this new division of labor in the Technic team was the small go-kart from 1978.