Sing with me: “Happy birthday, to you. Happy birthday, to you. Happy birthday, LEGO briiiiick. Happy birthday, to you.” That’s right, that wonderful little piece of plastic is 50 years old. My first LEGO set arrived in my hands in 1977, and my mom had to look high and low to find it and the inevitable follow-ups.
When I hit age 7, there was at least 5 years where a Christmas or birthday celebration wasn’t complete unless there was a shiny new LEGO set to unwrap. I still remember some of my favorites (Rescue Helicopter, Knight’s Castle, Motorcycle Shop, Surface Transport, just a pick a few of a very long list). My dream job as a kid? LEGO Designer.
I have to give huge kudos and massive thanks to my parents for supporting this hobby/obsession. In the early to mid-80s, LEGO sets were damn expensive, and my folks weren’t flush with cash, yet they always found a way to get me one for the big holidays.
Well into my teens, I was building here and there. That likely has to do with my younger brother starting to get interested in LEGO about the time that I was at the age where I “should have” lost interest.
When I went off to college, I was completely broke most of the time. But I always found a way to pick up a small set here and there to keep the obsession fed. I didn’t build much simply because my brick collection was still at home, turned over to my brother.
One day in 1999, I found myself in a Toys R’ Us shopping for a gift for a friend’s kid’s birthday when I stumbled upon the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. (OK, maybe not THE most amazing thing, but certainly up there towards the top) LEGO had released a line of Star Wars LEGO sets, and I was holding in my hand the dream of every male who was born in the 70s: the LEGO X-Wing. I snatched it up, as well as several other LEGO Star Wars sets they had in stock. I spent the rest of that Saturday afternoon driving to 7 different Toys R’ Us locations in the Dallas metroplex trying to find the rest of the line.
Before I knew it, I had reclaimed my 10 gallons of LEGO bricks from my parents house, joined the fan community, and had built an online store selling individual elements. Shortly thereafter, I found myself interviewing in NYC for a job with the LEGO Direct team. The 7 year old kid who made his relatives chuckle when he told them what he wanted to do had delivered on a promise to himself to make it happen.
I spent 5 years traveling the world, working with fan groups, and learning about online and offline community. I wrote a book, designed two different LEGO sets  , and participated in a number of product design projects/processes. I saw the power of the LEGO brick to excite and delight kids and adults alike. I learned that the brick is a universal language that can help people communicate ideas and emotions even if they can’t speak the same language. I saw 5 year old kids and 55 year old adults meeting each other at eye level to smile and point and admire amazing creations. And I’ve heard countless stories from programmers, engineers, scientists, and professors who confidently point to the LEGO brick as the reason they are in the profession they are. (See the screenshot of Google’s home page today, for more proof that smart people love LEGO)
Thanks Godtfred Kirk Christiansen and Mom & Dad for bringing this amazing creation to the floor of my room and to the depths of my imagination. Happy birthday, old friend!