Today, any adult over the age of 18 is sure to remember their favorite childhood toys. A mental highlight reel would expose a few big names: Barbies, Toy Soldiers, Barrel of Monkeys, G.I. Joe figures, Polly Pockets – the list goes on and ranges from the stuffed and fluffed, to the complicated and creative. Among these gems, LEGOs easily present a case as one of the most memorable. These small, multi-colored, angular plastic pieces were used to make any child’s imagination come true.
LEGOs allowed kids to build the highest towers, most majestic castles, simple suburban homes, or even replica buildings from their favorite flicks. Much in the same vein were Lincoln Logs and K’NEX. Never gaining quite the same popularity as the LEGO, K’NEX and Lincoln Logs allows children to be just as creative. What was it that set these three mediums apart, what made the LEGO in particular so popular, and how, after all these years, have these toys maintained a position in childhood play?
Lincoln Logs: The National Toy Hall of Fame-r
Lincoln Logs, the oldest of the three, are notched, miniature logs that emulate the design of a log cabin. Connecting to one another, the logs are typically used to build symmetrical structures in rectangular formations. The logs are three quarters of an inch long and approximately two centimeters in diameter. Additional toy parts can be purchased to construct roof tops, chimneys, windows, and doors. John Lloyd Wright designed the toy in 1916 with the help of his father, modeling it after the Imperial Hotel in Japan. Today, the toy sets and brand are currently sold under the K’NEX distribution label. After years of success, Lincoln Logs were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999, and continue to be popular with parents and childcare organizations around the country. The K’NEX website currently posts that for the first time in 50 years, Lincoln logs are now made in the USA with a combination of plastic and 100% real wood parts – “just like you remember!”
The Lincoln Logs appeal is heavily tied to its WWI origins, and patriotic nod to former president Abraham Lincoln. Because of this, the toy sets continue to sell old fashion designs such as “Wolf’s Lodge,” “Mountaintop Hideout,” “Colt’s Creek Command Post,” and “Frosty Falls Ranch.” The allusions to old-timey America keep the Lincoln Log tradition alive; however, the apparent disconnect with 20th and 21st century youth is apparent. This, combined with conspicuous simplicity in design gave way to the colorful, Denmark based LEGO brand by the 1950s.
Today, LEGO generates billions of dollars in revenue, employs over 11,700 people, and is a worldwide household brand. The company has released extravagant themed sets containing any number of colors, piece, shapes, and figurines imaginable. Some of the most coveted sets include: Architecture, Bionicle, City, Super Heroes (DC & Marvel Comics), Pirates, Minecraft, and the list goes on. Children have the opportunity to build practically anything simply with LEGO pieces. Interestingly enough, even though The LEGO Group had already successfully dominated the construction toy market, K’NEX joined the competition in the early 90s, offering children a different approach to building their dream structures.
K’NEX: The Educational Tool
K’NEX, and its entire toy system, can be credited to Joel Glickman. The toys were introduced to the U.S. in 1992, and currently fall under the umbrella group, K’NEX Industries Inc. “Building Worlds Kids Love,” and “The K’NEX Big Thing,” are the two (very 90s sounding) K’NEX slogans. Unlike Lincoln Logs or LEGOs, K’NEX relied on a flexible plastic rod and gear design. Children could use these rods, gears, wheels, and connectors to build more abstraction objects such as race cars, bridges, animals, or amusement parks. Unlike the inflexible designs of Lincoln Logs and LEGOs, K’NEX aimed to appeal to older children from ages 5 to 12, providing them with complex, fun designs. Because of this, K’NEX were often used in educational setting to represent 3D DNA models, simple machines, or basic geometry. Even the K’NEX website has a dedicated “K’NEX Education” section. For this reason, K’NEX still survives today, ranging from basic $10 kits to $1000 luxury, full-scale designs. However, LEGO has somehow retained its dominance over the brand.
The first reason for LEGO’s dominance could be explained in the following way: LEGO has become an iconic brand to such a point that the pieces are no longer being used simply as toys, but also a means to create and design other forms of art by adults. From designer bags to social commentary, LEGOs have been used to create masterpieces. In addition to this, LEGO introduced the first LEGOland, a family-oriented theme park, in Billund, Denmark in 1968. Ever since, LEGOland has expanded to other parts of Europe, North America, and Asia. There’s even a LEGO Digital Designer that helps you create virtual plan before constructing in real life.
LEGO: The Cream of the Crop
LEGO transcends the realm of “children’s” toys and extends into the general world of art. Furthermore, LEGOs have entered into the world of pop culture via video game and cinema. The 2014 LEGO movie was extremely well received and particularly impressive with an IMDb rating of 7.8 and an Oscar nomination. The LEGO Movie, directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, features some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities as voice actors, including: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman. The film was a huge success, grossing $257 million in North America and $210 million in other territories for a worldwide. A sequel is scheduled for May 18, 2018.
Lincoln Logs and K’NEX have safely remained in a niche sphere of child development, created a natural distance in playing field between them and the mighty brand of LEGO. However, all small differentiating details aside, it’s safe to say that Lincoln Logs, K’NEX, and LEGOs have a special place in our hearts. Children from generations past and generations to come have the opportunity to use these tools to build some of the best structures their minds can imagine. And for that, we have to appreciate the years of service these tools have provided.