The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 27, 2013

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Happy birthday, Lego; ‘playing well’ for 55 years

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

PITTSBURG, Kan. — At exactly 1:58 p.m. today, I’m going to bang a gong or something. Lego turns 55!

Technically, that is. I mean, that’s how long ago the patent for the current system was signed — at 1:58 p.m. on Jan. 28, 1958. But it’s a story that began long before that in the genius mind of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish master carpenter who established a toy company in 1932. Two years later, he renamed it Lego, from the Danish “leg godt,” which means “play well.” In Latin, it means “I put together.”

That’s exactly what our family has been doing with them since the 1970s — playing well and putting together. My dad was a talented builder using wood; my uncle was a talented craftsman using metal. My brother one day would follow in their footsteps, but as a 6-year-old, it’s challenging to use a table saw and a welding torch, particularly unsupervised.

So he built things — everything — out of Legos: spaceships that he climbed aboard and used to blast off into space, and rovers from which he explored the surface of the moon. I joined in and crafted dusty main streets that cowboys rode down, searching for a watering hole. And a pine tree-surrounded cozy cabin, inside of which I just knew a family was sipping hot cocoa by the fire.

Fast forward 30 years, and my two sons and their friends are keeping the tradition alive. After a trip to the Joplin Museum Complex, they crafted a miniature model of a mine, complete with working cars and tipple. As members of a youth bowling league, they joined with their buddies to create a tabletop version of a bowling alley and arcade.

Each summer, Pittsburg State University’s Adventures in Robotics weeklong summer camp helps youngsters like ours take their building and engineering skills to the next level with Legos.

On weekends, Legos allow my husband and me to catch a few extra winks while our sons rise early to tinker at crafting their own, original versions of Hogwarts and the Millennium Falcon and Captain Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl.

They experiment with creating stop-motion and how-to-build videos using Lego minifigures — unbelievably, my son’s YouTube channel has as many subscribers as my professional Twitter account, and one of his videos has been viewed 261,000 times.

News of Lego inventions of others continues to inspire. A father and son built a working Lego drone. Someone else built a Lego camera. And a youth in England built a working Lego harpsichord — it plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

My sons plan to attend Larry Dunekack’s classes at Pittsburg High School, where they will have access to walls of cabinets loaded with Mindstorm supplies. And they discuss childhood dreams of one day working for Pitsco, founded in Pittsburg in 1971 by a few teachers and now the North American headquarters for Lego Education.

So you see, I really don’t mind stepping on the occasional brick when I get up for a drink of water in the middle of the night, or my dining room table being littered with brightly colored pieces for weeks at a time.

The only trouble with the little plastic brick, it seems, is that some people still think of it as just a toy.

Follow Andra Stefanoni at and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.

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