9 ways Lego has changed since we were kids

From its obvious branding to its elaborate builder sets, Lego just isn't what it used to be.

lego-letter Lego's letter to parents (from a 1974 box set). Photo: Reddit

A letter to parents promoting gender equality was found in an old Lego box from 1974—and it's a stark reminder of how much times have changed in the land of Lego. A photo of the letter, uploaded to the community platform, has gone viral—and with good reason. It would appear that, in the 1970s, equality of the sexes and creativity was the end goal for Lego.

Here's how Lego has changed over the years:


1. The instructions

Then: Some sets came with instructions, while others did not (in an effort to promote creativity and imagination). The 1974 letter pictured above was a gentle reminder to parents to remember that girls and boys both love to build and create. It reads:

"To Parents. The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.

It’s the imagination that counts. Not skill. You build whatever comes into your head, the way you want it. A bed or a truck. A dolls house or a spaceship. A lot of boys like dolls houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses.

The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them."


Now: The pages in instruction booklets can number in the hundreds, which often result in a few separate books.

2-7 Photo: Lego

2. The sets

Then: You bought a big box of Lego with a variety of coloured bricks (see above). If you were lucky, you got the Lego spaceship or the village box set. And you treasured them.

Now: You buy a small box of Lego that is part of a larger theme (see below). Your child bugs you to buy each and every set that is part of the desired theme. Each year, a new branded theme comes out and your child asks for that one.

batmanarkhamasylumlegomain Photo: Lego

3. The building method


Then: You built houses and vehicles, which you tore apart and rebuilt daily.

Now: You pore over the intricate instructions with your child. A building project can take place over the span of a few days, with your moods sliding from frustration to joy and back again. After the set is built, your child sets them up in certain configuration that cannot get touched again for years. Your child cries when you move one slightly to the left so you can vacuum. (The character Lord Business from The Lego Movie was based on your kid, FYI.) Or maybe, it’s you who gets upset when your child thoughtlessly destroys the set that earned your blood, sweat and tears.

4. Boys and girls

Then: Both boys and girls played with the same Lego sets.

Now: Lego did extensive research and found that girls preferred to play with the characters rather than build sets. So they created the Lego Friends line where the characters own beauty salons, pet boutiques and can be news reporters working on stories about cakes. The sets do not come with hundreds of pages of instructions because most of them are fairly simple to build. The Lego Friends line is immensely popular.

5. The advertising

Then: The ads were just plain awesome. Case in point: This 1981 ad featuring a young girl with her Lego creation.


Now: Someone tracked down that happy little redhead girl from the 1981 ad and told her about how Lego has become more gender stratified. Rachel Giordano is now a doctor in Seattle and she's expressed concern about the lack of gender equality in Lego sets. She wrote: “…gender segmenting toys interferes with a child’s own creative expression. I know that how I played as a girl shaped who I am today. It contributed to me becoming a physician and inspired me to want to help others achieve health and wellness.” They did an updated photo featuring Giordano. See above.

6. The blocks

Then: The bricks were 2x4, 4x4, and so on.

Now: The bricks still exist, obviously, but now each set contains many odd shapes that are specific to that particular set and do not work with any other creation. Woe to the builder who misplaces them. The good news is that in the last few years, Lego has decreased the specialization of the pieces so they can be used creatively on other sets.

7. The minifigs

Then: There was this guy.


Now: There are thousands of different minifigs. There are superheroes, construction workers, police, burglars, cowboys, ninjas and mystical creatures. There are approximately four male characters to every one female character. Last year, Lego created a female scientist set on a limited run. It sold out quickly.


8. Branding


Then: Lego sets were from the imagination of the designers and the kid builders—there was towns and spaceships, etc. Since 1966, the Danish company had a relationship with Shell Oil, which recently ended.

Now: The Lego Star Wars line was what brought the company back from the brink. Now you don’t have regular Lego cops and robbers—you have Batman and the Gotham criminals. You don’t just play with pirates, you have a Jack Sparrow minifig from The Pirates of the Caribbean set. There is even Disney princess Lego for the younger set. Now, TV series and movies are now inspiring Lego sets—and with The Lego Movie the whole cycle became very meta.

9. The pain

Then: Blocks hide in the carpet until you are walking around barefoot in the dark. The pain of stepping on a sharp Lego piece is not easily forgotten.

Now: Some things never change.

This article was originally published on Nov 25, 2014

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