Countdown to 90 Years Of Play Part 5: 1972-1981

Welcome back to the fifth instalment as we take a decade by decade look at the history of the LEGO Group, before they celebrate their 90th Anniversary on August 10, 2022. Last time, we left the 1960s behind: wheels and trains have entered the mix, and DUPLO is helping little people to build big things. Today, we move further into the ‘70s: an era where characters enter the mix, more realistic models are possible, and a new CEO enters the mix.

During the 70s, we see a number of LEGO Figures released, in different scales and shapes, all serving to aid the story telling. The first that we encounter area the so called homemaker figures. After producing dolls house furniture sets in 1973, these figures first appeared in 1974. These brick built figures with posable arms appear as part of a family unit, but also having a variety of adventures both around the house and around town. The figures extend beyond family, and extend to policemen, bus drivers and travellers.

Around the same time, buildings of a different scale are being released, and while the elements exist to sculpt the grounds and buildings, creating the feeling of a domestic garden is a little harder. In 1974, we saw the release of a conifer tree. It first appears in the 361 Tea Garden Cafe

This smaller scale is more practical for creating larger towns in the comfort of your own home, and in 1975, we saw the debut of ‘The Stage Extra’ figures. The figure’s legs and arms do not move, and the faces don’t feature any printed details – that was a little tough for the existing technology to achieve this on the curved head brick. This technology is still a few years away. The torso ‘prints’ on these paramedics can be attributed to the use of stickers.

Entertaining Experts

In parallel with these developments, has been a line of models for Expert Builders is released – vintage cars, sailing ships, and more.

Trying Technical

In 1977, we see a new range of working models: the first release of Technical sets. Presenting cars with moving engines, a helicopter and other vehicles, as well as the means to power them, Technic rapidly became a way for kids to learn about aspects of the mechanical world around them – from the differential, piston cams, variable pitch rotors as well as rack and pinion steering. My first knowledge of many of these things first came from my contact with Technical LEGO sets.

Duplo Developments

DUPLO Bricks had been in general circulation since 1969, and we subsequently saw the introduction of arched elements and wheels bases. In 1977, we see the first stylised figure in the range.

In 1978, we see a new logo for DUPLO, featuring the red rabbit..

Minifigures Move Out

In 1978, we see the arrival of the first minifigure themes: Castle, Town and Space. Past, Present and Future.

The arrival of the Minifigures, as well as the variety of playsets that kids had access to, opened up a whole new world of story telling, especially with the aid of the 6000 ideas book, and more.

These original themes might have taken a bit of a beating over the last few years, but we can still see their legacy in the playsets of today.

Passing the Baton

In 1979, the Third Generation Family owner, Kjeld Kirk Kristiensen is also appointed to the role of CEO.

Finding Fabuland

In 1979, a new range was released – designed to bridge the gap for kids too old for DUPLO and not quite ready for the LEGOLAND type sets. Fabuland, as it was known, featured anthropomorphised characters, and instruction manuals that focussed heavily on story as a tool to aid the construction of the models. The theme runs for over 10 years, and features some of the LEGO Groups’ first outreach to other products: TV Series, books, jigsaw puzzles and so forth.

As the 70’s draw to a close, and the 80’s get underway, we see a new element that will affect the way that we all play with LEGO Bricks.

The headlamp brick (or washing machine), also known as the Erling brick, after Erling Diderickson, an element designer at the time.

As one of the first elements to exploit the idea of Studs to the side, it also gave us a way to offset parts of our build by a half-plate thickness.

We will continue our story in tomorrow’s installment, when we take a look at what went on in the 80’s.

Until then,

Play Well.

While you are here, there is still time to join the 90 years of play classic themes challenge on Instagram, hosted by myself and Jen from @brickfambuilds. You can find further details here

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