LEGO building blocks were first introduced by the LEGO toy company of Bilund, Denmark. An earlier version, called Automatic Binding Blocks, was first made by the LEGO company in 1949. In 1953, these blocks were renamed LEGO bricks. The modern LEGO brick design was patented in January 1958.
The LEGO company was started by Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen in 1934. Christiansen made a variety of wooden toys in his workshop in Bilund. The name "LEGO" comes from the Danish phrase "leg godt," meaning "play well." The company flourished, and by 1948 it had 50 employees.
In 1947, LEGO bought a plastic injection-molding machine and began mass-producing a line of plastic toys, including Automatic Binding Blocks. These blocks were based in part on an earlier version of attachable plastic blocks called Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks, patented in England in 1939. LEGO modified the design and replaced the original material with a more durable polymer.
LEGO building blocks were first available in the United States in 1973. By 1978, consumers were able to buy themed sets for building a LEGO town or castle. Since then, a huge number of sets have been introduced with tie-ins to such popular culture mainstays as Star Wars and Harry Potter. In 1998, LEGO blocks were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y.