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Jens Nygaard Knudsen

Jens Nygaard Knudsen (January 25, 1942 – February 19, 2020) was a set designer for The LEGO Group from 1968 to 2000. He was notable for being the creator of the Minifigure and LEGO Space.

Biography

When Jens Nygaard Knudsen was looking for a job, he found an advertisement for a job position as a model builder at The LEGO Group in a local Danish newspaper. His first task was to build hundreds of small LEGO Town cars in different colours. These models were along the lines of sets 605 Taxi and 420 Police Car. Jens designed much of the early "LEGOLAND" branded LEGO Town sets, along with almost all of the Basic sets.

As time went on, Jens was assigned to make bigger sets including the Fire Station, Police Station and the Hospital. He came up with the idea to include rooftop heliports on these sets—an idea still being incorporated in sets today.

In the 1970s, there were only few LEGO set designers, so Jens, along with his colleague Bent Irving Andersen, developed the early electric train system (with blue tracks and white sleepers). Some of Jens' favorite trains he's designed include 182 Train Set with Motor and 7710 Push-Along Passenger Steam Train. When making the 'Basic' themed sets, Jens always wanted to push a futuristic style, as seen in set 733 Universal Building Set and 744 Universal Building Set.

During that time, Jens designed over 50 concepts for what would later become the LEGO minifigure. Jens and his colleagues decided to make LEGO minifigures yellow to be racially neutral. In 1978, Jens articulated minifigure design was patented and produced by the LEGO group, and all minifigures to this day use this design.

Jens also created the LEGO Space theme, designing the first space sets 358 Rocket Base and 367 Moon Landing. At the time, it was difficult to make a lot of colour changes, and grey LEGO elements were not considered bright enough to be the main colour in a toy, so after some experimentation, Jens decided that blue looked technical enough, and the sets were produced using predominantly this colour.

Later in 1978 and 1979, LEGO was rushing to get LEGO space and the minifigure ("LEGO men", as they were referred to by the company) onto store shelves as soon as possible, to be the first space-oriented construction toy on the market. The LEGO Group pushed Space sets onto American store shelves in 1978, more than six months before originally planned. In 1979, LEGO debuted the Space line at the Nuremberg Toy Fair, being a huge success, and voted "European Toy of the Year 1979". The success of the new line of products helped LEGO to hire 500 extra production employees that year, and earned Jens a promotion to Chief Designer. He would serve this role up until his retirement in 2000.

He passed away at the age of 78 on February 19th, 2020.

LEGO

The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. It’s our name and it’s our ideal.

The LEGO Group was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen. The company has passed from father to son and is now owned by Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, a grandchild of the founder.

1932

Ole Kirk Kristiansen, master carpenter and joiner, establishes his business in the village of Billund, Denmark. His firm manufactures stepladders, ironing boards, stools, and wooden toys.

His son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, starts working in the business at the age of 12.

1934

The company and its products now adopt the name LEGO, formed from the Danish words “LEg GOdt” (“play well”). Later, it is realised that in Latin the word means “I put together”.

The firm has 6-7 employees.

1935

The business manufactures its first LEGO wooden duck and markets “Kirk´s Sandgame” its first construction toy.

1936

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen (GKC) cuts Ole Kirk’s motto “Only the best is good enough” and hangs it up in the workshop.

1937

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen starts creating models. He is 17 years old.

1939

The LEGO Factory has 10 employees.

1940

Denmark is occupied by the Germans. Godtfred Kirk Christiansen does not travel to Germany to study as planned. Instead, he becomes manager at LEGO.

1943

The firm has approx. 40 employees.

1946

The LEGO Group is the first in Denmark to buy a plastic injection-moulding machine for toy production. The machine costs DKK 30,000. By comparison, the revenue of the firm this year is DKK 450,000.

1947

The Windsor SH Plastic Moulding Machine arrives at Esbjerg Port.

As a test, six series of wooden toy animals are exported to India.

1948

LEGO has 50 employees.

1949

The company produces around 200 different plastic and wooden toys, including Automatic Binding Bricks, a forerunner of the LEGO bricks we know today. They are sold in Denmark exclusively. The first packaging with four colours is introduced.

1950

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, son of the founder, Ole Kirk Kristiansen, is appointed Junior Vice President the day he turns 30.

1951

The first ever film about LEGO is shot. The photographer is Christian Lund, and the film is black and white with no sound.

Plastic toys account for half of the company’s output.

1952

Ole Kirk’s plans to expand and a plant is built. It costs DKK 350,000.

The company now has its first canteen.

1953

The Automatic Binding Bricks get a new name: “LEGO Mursten” (“LEGO Bricks”).

The name LEGO is printed inside all bricks.

The first application for registration of the trademark is submitted. The Danish registration is accepted on the 1 May 1954.

1954

The word LEGO is officially registered in Denmark on 1st May.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen travels to England and meets a purchasing agent on the ferry. They talk about toys. The agent thinks that toys lack idea and system. This spawns the LEGO System idea in the mind of Godtfred Kirk Christiansen.

1955

After further developing the LEGO Bricks, the company launches the revolutionary “LEGO System of Play” – creating a new play platform.

The first real export of LEGO begins. First country is Sweden.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen demonstrates the new product at a toy fair in Nuremberg, Germany. Reactions are not positive.

1957

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen is appointed Managing Director.

LEGO Schweiz is established.

The LEGO Group celebrates its 25th anniversary.

1958

The current LEGO stud-and-tube coupling system is patented. The new coupling principle makes models much more stable.

Ole Kirk Kristiansen passes away.

The first telex machine and photocopier is brought to Billund.

140 employees are working in Billund.

1959

Futura, the product-development department, now has five members of staff.

A market analysis department is established.

Photography department is established.

LEGO France, British LEGO Ltd., LEGO Belgium, and LEGO Sweden are established.

The machines in the production are now so automatic that one operator can handle two machines at a time.

LEGO gives the municipality of Billund approx. 20 acres of land and DKK 50,000 for a sports ground.

1960

The wooden toy warehouse is destroyed by fire. Production of wooden toys is discontinued entirely.

Approximately 450 employees are working in Billund.

LEGO Finland and LEGO Nederland are established.

1961

The range comprises 50 sets, 15 vehicles, and various loose elements.

Sales start in the US and Canada via a license agreement with Samsonite Corp.

First ever strike at LEGO.

LEGO Italy is established.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen buys a small Piper Apache plane (room for two pilots and three passengers) in association with Sonderjyllands Flyselskab (later to become Cimber Air). A landing field is established just outside Billund.

1975

LEGO USA moves from Brookfield to Enfield, Connecticut.

Procurement in the US is established.

The LEGO Group has 2,500 employees.

LEGO Portugal is established.

English becomes the official corporate language.

1976

LEGOLAND Sieksdorf is closed.

Robert Jacobsen’s “LEGO” sculpture is revealed in Billund.

Minitalia, that launched in Italy in 1971, is removed from the product line.

1977

Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the third generation, joins the LEGO Group management.

LEGO Australia is established.

DUPLO Factory in Billund is now an independent unit in the LEGO Group.

1979

Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen is appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of INTERLEGO A/S.

The DUPLO rabbit logo is registered as a trademark.

LEGO Singapore is established.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen is appointed Knight of the Order of Dannebrog.

1980

The Educational Products Department is established.

Technic Logo is developed by Papermint.

According to a survey, 70% of all Western European families with kids under 14 now have LEGO bricks in their home.

1983

LEGO has 3700 employees worldwide.

LEGO Overseas holds its first World Distributor Conference in Billund.

1984

LEGO Brazil is established.

LEGO Korea is established.

McDonald’s co-promotion in USA and Canada.

The American, Hong Kong produced, TYCO Brick is launched, leading to lawsuits in several countries.

Collaboration with Professor Seymour Papert and M.I.T. begins.

1999

LEGOLAND California opens in Carlsbad, southern California, in March.

LEGO Group undergoes restructuring. The changes result in the loss of 1000 jobs.

Mitchel Resnick of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is named as the new LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research.

The LEGO brick is named as one of the “Products of the Century” by Fortune Magazine.

LEGO World Shop opens on the internet.

The first LEGO products-only store opens in the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Dartford, London, England.

2007

The LEGO Group celebrates its 75th anniversary on 10 August in good shape.

LEGO Club has approx. 2.6 million members.

All distribution for the European and Asian markets is gathered in one distribution center in the Czech Republic.

The LEGO Group enters a license agreement with Lucasfilm Inc. on the production of LEGO Indiana Jones sets.

The LEGO Star Wars™ Millennium Falcon is the largest LEGO model so far. Weight 6 kilos. Number of elements included: 5,195 pieces.

2009

The LEGO Group is now the world’s fifth largest toy manufacturer in terms of sales.

Warner Bros. and the LEGO Group announce plans to develop the first-ever feature film based on LEGO bricks and icons.

The LEGO Group announces a multi-year partnership with Disney Consumer Products obtaining exclusive rights to construction toys based on the entire portfolio of Disney and Disney Pixar properties.

A completely new product line – LEGO Games – is launched. The line consists of a series of board games that can be played by the whole family. Pilot is launched in the UK and Germany, with the rest of world to follow.

2011

LEGOLAND® Florida opens. The world’s largest LEGOLAND Park.

The LEGO Group launches its first appcessory “Life of George”.

The LEGO Group is now the world’s third largest toy manufacturer in terms of sales.

2015

The LEGO Group and the LEGO Foundation entered a three-year partnership with UNICEF to protect children’s rights and change the way in which children learn.

The offshore wind farm, Borkum Riffgrund 1, of which 32 percent is owned by the LEGO Group was opened in October.

LEGO® products are now sold in more than 140 countries.

The first parts were moulded in the new LEGO Group factory in Jiaxing, China. The first packing lines were put into operation in September 2015. The first box packed in Jiaxing was the LEGO City Police Station.

2018

2018 marks an anniversary year as the LEGO® brick celebrates its 60th anniversary, LEGOLAND Billund turns 50, and the LEGO minifigure celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Now it is possible for smaller children to code with LEGO elements. With the launch of two LEGO DUPLO® trains and an associated app, the trains can be programmed to drive, brake, turn on their lights and change direction.

Following the launch of the LEGO Technic Bugatti Chiron, a life-size Bugatti Chiron is constructed of more than 1 million LEGO Technic elements and no glue. – And it drives!

The largest mosaic in the world is assembled in LEGO House. It measures 12 x 14 meters and consists of more than 650.000 LEGO elements.

The first sustainable LEGO bricks, made of plastic granulate extracted from sugarcane, enters the market. Among the first elements are trees and bushes.

The LEGO Foundation donates 100 million dollars to Sesame Workshop to help children caught in conflicts around the world.

From its humble beginnings as a small carpenter’s workshop to a modern, global enterprise that is now one of the world’s largest manufacturers of toys, the LEGO Group makes continuous effort to drive innovations but also stay true to the product that made them who they are today.

The LEGO brick remains one of their most important product. The company takes immense pride to have a product that has been named “Toy of the Century” twice. Although their products have undergone extensive development over the years, the foundation remains the traditional LEGO brick.

The brick in its present form was launched in 1958. The interlocking principle with its tubes makes it unique and offers unlimited building possibilities. It’s just a matter of getting the imagination going – and letting a wealth of creative ideas emerge through play.


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