LEGO® DUPLO® is a range of LEGO® product lines for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners roughly from eighteen months to five years of age. Before The LEGO Group introduced DUPLO® per se, it manufactured and marketed other large bricks for the benefit of wee tots. These were LEGO® Plastic Building Bricks and Lego® Jumbo Bricks.
In 1950, the year after the company had introduced the Automatic Binding Brick (the forerunner of the Lego® brick introduced in 1958), the company introduced LEGO Plastic Building Bricks. These were larger than Automatic Binding Bricks. Intended for children ages one-to-five, The Lego Group marketed them as “the perfect bricks for day care centers.”
Packages of the LEGO Plastic Building Bricks had pictures of Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen as a toddler. This was the grandson of LEGO Group founder Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891-1958) and son of Godtfred Kirk Christiansen (1919-1995). [K.K. Kristiansen would go on to represent the third generation of the family to head the company. He remains the majority stockholder.]
The photograph of him on LEGO Plastic Building sets would be the first of several times his photograph appeared on construction toy sets his family manufactured. The LEGO Group manufactured LEGO Plastic Building Bricks from 1950 to 1955.
Figure 1 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is a box of LEGO Plastic Building Bricks from the 1950s.
Figure 2 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is box of LEGO Plastic Building Bricks from the 1950s features Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen on the packaging. K.K. Kristiansen, grandson of LEGO Group founder Ole Kirk Christian, went on to lead the firm like his grandfather and father.
A group of teachers who visited The LEGO Group headquarters in Billund, Denmark had expressed enthusiasm for prototypes they saw in the early 1960s. In the mid-1960s, The LEGO Group was determined to develop larger bricks for preschoolers.
LEGO Futura, The LEGO Group’s product development department, developed prototypes of enlarged bricks at scales of 2:1, 3:1, and 4:1. Subsequently, The LEGO Group manufactured a brick that was three times as long, wide, and high as a standard LEGO® brick and tested it in some European markets in Set #501, Set #502, and Set #503.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, The LEGO Group and Samsonite, which manufactured LEGO® sets under license from The LEGO Group, manufactured Jumbo LEGO Bricks. In 1961, The LEGO Group signed a sales and manufacturing licensing agreement with Samsonite that covered the American and Canadian markets.
Figure 3 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This Pre-school Set is an example of how LEGO Jumbo Bricks were marketed in the U.S.A. and Canada.
Samsonite was particularly interested in eight-stud bricks that measured 4” x 2” x 1”. In 1964, Samsonite placed an order for these bricks, which became known as Lego Jumbo Bricks.
The company also indicated a desire to purchase molds for Lego Jumbo Bricks, so it could manufacture Lego Jumbo Bricks itself. Samsonite marketed Lego Jumbo Bricks in Canada until 1970 and the U.S.A. until ’71. The next year, The LEGO Group discontinued the sales and manufacturing licensing agreement with Samsonite. The LEGO Group took direct control of producing and marketing toys for the American and Canadian markets.
Originally, DUPLO Figures, introduced in 1977, lacked arms and legs, but they have grown more complex over time. Today, they resemble Minifigures™ from LEGO® System sets, but are considerably larger, making them easier to play with for tots.
Meanwhile, The LEGO Group also experimented with 2:1 scale bricks that fit the LEGO System of Play. The company stated, “The key to the LEGO System is to ensure consistency and product longevity. By making sure that all LEGO® elements, old or new, are compatible, the company can prolong the life of and add value to existing LEGO bricks – and instead of users discarding their old bricks when they buy a new LEGO® set, they add value to the bricks they already have.”
The larger bricks had to be compatible with standard bricks for The LEGO Group to be able to release it as part of the LEGO System. That is to say, it had to interlock with the standard bricks.
Many variations of the 2:1 scale brick were tested before a solution was reached. If the larger bricks had hollowed-out studs, a standard-sized LEGO® brick could be plugged into the hollow studs.
The LEGO Group dubbed the new 2:1 scale brick “DUPLO,” with the name derived from duplex, the Latin word for double as a reference to DUPLO® bricks being twice the size of standard-sized LEGO® brick. In 1967, The LEGO Group patented this new method of combining large and small elements. The next year, The LEGO Group tested DUPLO® bricks on the Swedish market. After some fine tuning, the company introduced the DUPLO® in markets worldwide in 1969.
Figure 4 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Samsonite was particularly interested in The LEGO Group’s prototype eight-stud bricks that measured 4” x 2” x 1”. These became LEGO Jumbo Bricks. Samsonite marketed LEGO Jumbo Bricks in Canada until 1970 and the U.S.A. until ’71.
Figure 5 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: In 1969, The LEGO Group introduced on the international market the DUPLO® series for children under five years old, seen here in ’69 with classic LEGO® bricks.
Figure 6 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Sets #510 and #511 were the first LEGO® DUPLO® sets. They reached the international markets in 1969.
Figure 7 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is how DUPLO® sets looked before the introduction of the DUPLO® logo.
In the late 1970s, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen introduced a new business model under which there was a clear differentiation between LEGO® System construction toys and LEGO® DUPLO® put-together toys for tots. Plan Design, a Danish company, developed the familiar rabbit DUPLO® logo.
Figure 8 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is the original LEGO® DUPLO® logo. Plan Design, a Danish company, developed the logo.
Figure 9 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Set #522, released in 1977, was one of the first LEGO® DUPLO® sets to have the original DUPLO Figures.
Figure 10 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: In 1983, The LEGO Group introduced a new DUPLO Figure that was closer in shape and functionality to the LEGO® System’s Minifigure™. In other words, it had arms and legs (and they moved).
In 2001, with the help of child development experts, The LEGO Group created the LEGO® Explore® discovery system. It was meant to aid parents comprehend each stage of development their very young children went through and what type of play was suitable for that stage. LEGO® Explore® had four product lines: Explore® Being Me, Explore® Together, Explore® Imagination, and Explore® Logic. The LEGO® Explore® brand and discovery system confused customers. They did not perceive LEGO® Explore® sets as being compatible with old DUPLO® bricks they already had at home.
As a result, sales for preschoolers significantly declined. To reassure customers that the new LEGO® Explore® products were compatible with old DUPL® bricks, The LEGO Group began to add the DUPL® logo (in addition to the Explore® logo) to indicate Explore® was part of the DUPLO Building System. In 2004, in response to customer feedback, The LEGO Group discontinued LEGO® Explore® and reintroduced the DUPLO® brand.
Figure 11 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: In 2002, The LEGO Group introduced LEGO® Explore®. Set #4180 was an example of a LEGO® Explore® Imagination product. Explore® Imagination was one of the four Explore® product lines.
Figure 12 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Set #3325 was an example of a LEGO® Explore® Logic product. Explore Logic was one of the four Explore® product lines.
Figure 13 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: To reassure customers that the new LEGO® Explore® products were compatible with old DUPL® bricks, some sets also had the DUPLO® logo to indicate Explore® was part of the DUPLO Building System. Ultimately, The LEGO Group discontinued Explore® in 2004.
Today, DUPLO® includes products lines that are designed under license. A recent example was Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates. LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Disney™ Planes, LEGO® DUPLO® DC Comics Super Heroes, and LEGO® DUPLO® Pink Building Farm are recent themes that are no longer in production. The current full range of DUPLO® themes (product lines) are My First DUPLO® Sets, LEGO® DUPLO® The LEGO® Movie 2™, My DUPLO® Town, LEGO® DUPLO® Marvel Super Hero Adventures, LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ PIXAR™ Toy Story, LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Pixar Cars™, LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Princess, LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and LEGO® DUPLO® Jurassic World.
Figure 14 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is Set #10595 (Sofia the First Royal Castle) from LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Princess.
Figure 15 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is Set #10590 (Airport) from LEGO® DUPLO® My DUPLO® Town.
Figure 16 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is Set #10589 (Rally Car) from LEGO® DUPLO® My DUPLO® Town.
Figure 17 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is Set #10587 (Café).
Figure 18 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This set was from the LEGO® DUPLO® Marvel Spider-Man theme, which has been replaced by the LEGO® DUPLO® MARVEL Super Hero Adventures theme. All the sets in the new theme, though, also include Spider-Man DUPLO® Figures.
Figure 19 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Set #10608 (Spider-Man Spider Truck Adventure) from the LEGO® DUPLO® Marvel Spider-Man theme includes a buildable truck and DUPLO Figure versions of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. The truck is 7” high, 9” long, and 2” wide.
Figure 20 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Most of the elements this little boy is playing with are from Set #10504 (DUPLO© My First Circus), a retired product. Notice the Octan logo from another set. Prominent in The LEGO Movie (2014), Octan is a fictional company.
Figure 21 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: These little children are playing with LEGO® DUPLO® bricks.
Figure 22 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: These little children are playing with LEGO® DUPLO® bricks.
Figure 23 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This little girl is playing with LEGO® DUPLO® bricks.
Figure 24 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This little boy is playing with a train and ice cream cone sets from LEGO® DUPLO® My First DUPLO® Sets and My DUPLO® Town.
Figure 25 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is LEGO® DUPLO® Set #10567 (Toddler Build and Boat Fun Building Set).
Figure 25 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, then C.E.O. of The LEGO Group and now Executive Chairman, holds a LEGO® DUPLO® box. Since June of 2014, new LEGO® products have been sold in smaller boxes certified by the Forest Stewardship Council®. Producing the boxes uses an average 14% less paper.
In the recent past, there were five DUPLO® Apps – LEGO® DUPLO® Forest, LEGO® DUPLO® Ice Cream, LEGO® DUPLO® Circus, LEGO® DUPLO® Food, and LEGO® DUPLO® Train – but they are no longer active. LEGO® Family has a number of DUPLO®-related features, though.
DUPLO® was featured briefly but prominently for comedic value in The LEGO® Movie (2014) and The LEGO® Movie 2: The Second Part (2019). The preschool-age little sister’s use of DUPLO® and propensity for destroying her older brother’s constructs (repurposed from their father’s vast collection of LEGO® sets) and disrupting his stories contrasted with his use of the father’s elaborate models to tell melodramatic, epic stories. In the sequel, we see her maturation as a person and a story-teller play out in part with her graduation from DUPLO® to LEGO®.
7 thoughts on ““A Brief History of Lego Duplo” by S.M. O’Connor”
This is really informative. I heard on a podcast once that the history of building blocks, which predates legos, started by the same person who invented kindergarten.
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I think your history is good but it is missing the initial Bri-Plax Interlocking Building Cubes designed by a British Toy Designer, Hilary Page in 1939. These were then copied by LEGO to create the LEGO Plastik Byggeklodser but credit for the original design should go to Hilary Page. You can learn more about this genius toy designer here: http://www.hilarypagetoys.com and more about his Interlocking Building cubes specifically here: https://www.hilarypagetoys.com/Home/Products/9/0
It’s interesting that you made no mention of Lego Quatro…
In my defense, I didn’t run across it in my research, my youngest sibling was a teenager by the time LEGO Quatro came around (from 2004 to 2006, according to Brickipedia), and my nieces and nephew hadn’t been born yet. Thanks to you, I know about it now, though, and I’ll address Quatro when I post a longer version of this article on my second blog I’m launching shortly that will be devoted to LEGO and other toys.
This lengthier version covers Quatro http://empireofthebrick.com/2022/04/14/a-history-of-lego-duplo/