This time of social distancing and self-isolation is the perfect time to build new LEGO creations. James Pegrum took this time to build a small scene from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920. While there isn’t a whole lot going on in the picture, there are some nice little designs for rafters, hanging sheets, and early hospital beds. Aside from the build itself, the subject matter is what’s important today. The patient here is doing what the nurse is telling him to do. We all need to do the same. We’re going to get through this by listening to public health officials. One of the loudest messages I’ve heard is to stay home if you can, which is the perfect time to come up with more amazing LEGO creations!
LEGO Education is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and we are exploring the history of this unique division of the LEGO Group. Part 1 presented an early history of LEGO Education, while Part 2 outlined the development of the first LEGO robotics platforms. In our 3rd and final installment, we dive into the story behind the game-changing release of LEGO Mindstorms.
LEGO Education is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary! As a birthday gift, we are commemorating the occasion with a three-part history feature on this special division of the LEGO Group. Part 1 provided an overview of the history of LEGO education from the 1980s through 1990s, but we left out an important component of the story. Part 2 picks up where we left off, covering the beginnings of LEGO’s programmable robots in the classroom and at home. These were the precursors of LEGO Mindstorms!
LEGO bricks have long been considered an educational toy, but it wasn’t until 1980 when The LEGO Group formally established an educational division. Known today as LEGO Education, the division is celebrating 40 years of collaborating with and developing educational tools for teachers around the world, with products ranging from Duplo to Mindstorms. Here at The Brothers Brick, we are taking a closer look at LEGO Education with a series of articles, and what better way to observe a 40th anniversary than with a history of the subject?
To get everyone pumped up, LEGO created a special video highlighting some of the key points behind the history of LEGO Education. Think of the video as a preview of the history we are about to cover here. Get ready, because it’s time to dive deep into LEGO Education 101!
Last week, we showed you more of Beryll Roehl’s wonderful LEGO test brick photographs. Today, we’re going to look at Norwegian collector Fabian Lindblad and his equally enjoyable snapshots of marbled bricks. Marbled bricks are named such after the swirls of different colored plastic they contain. Some elements are intentionally marbled for sets, while others are the result of changing over the plastic in a mold from one color to another. In the past, LEGO employees occasionally took them home to share with their children. Today, the standard procedure is to recycle them so they don’t leave the building. However, if you are really lucky, you might just find a marbling error in one of your latest sets.
August of this year marked the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. To commemorate the massacre, James Pegrum, Dan Harris and Simon Pickard collaborated to build a LEGO diorama of the event. In their research on the subject, the team consulted an expert historian and the creators of a graphic novel depicting the Peterloo Massacre. They tried to recreate everything as accurately as possible.
Two hundred years ago on August 16, 1819, eighteen persons lost their lives when British yeomanry hacked through a crowd of protesters with their sabers. The event was named the Peterloo Massacre, which Dan Harris has built in lovely LEGO form for our edification on its 200th anniversary. The crowd had gathered to protest the Corn Laws, tariffs on agricultural products that helped powerful British landowners by keeping prices high but hurt common British folks who bought food by…keeping prices high. As an American, I appreciate the sign that says “Taxation without representation is unjust and tyrannical,” as that sentiment was instrumental in our own protest movement against the Crown several decades prior. But unlike the British subjects in the American colonies, the poor folks of Manchester (where the protest happened) did not get to see an increase in liberty; ironically, the massacre of innocent civilians by out-of-line cavalry resulted in more crackdowns on reform (until 1832, when reform laws were passed that finally gave them representation in parliament).
Nothing needs to be changed in Dan’s build, however. The most striking thing about it is the excellent minifigure posing, coupled with an abundance of angry and scared flesh-toned faces. The layering of the figures and the angle of the shot give the impression of a large crowd as well as the panic engendered by a charge of horses and sabers against unarmed civilians. The man laying down in the middle of the front of the build seems to be breaking the fourth wall and entreating the viewer for help, too. As far as the LEGO build goes, the buildings in the back look great with their cheese slope roofs and nicely textured walls. The best part, though? That has to be the Star Wars helmets used backwards for the women’s bonnets; it looks perfect, almost as though it was designed for that purpose rather than for an Imperial pilot. It is perhaps slightly ironic that the women wearing the Imperial helmets are the ones being attacked by uniformed soldiers of the Empire, a reminder to all of us to stand up to those in power in defense of what is right and just.
I love it when two things that I like and know something about come together, like peanut butter and jelly or LEGO and Roman history. Tim Schwalfenberg brings us a slice of the early days of Rome, when they were still constructing the Forum.
Or perhaps it is later in Rome’s history when they were building a second, third, or fourth forum. I suspect it is early, though, since the streets are not yet paved and there is still active construction going on with a wooden crane lifting up a block of marble to add to a second building. If that’s not deep enough, please excuse me while I put on my scholar hat for a moment. It should be pointed out that not everything is completely accurate here: the Romans generally built with brick or concrete and faced the buildings with marble, rather than building the whole thing of marble; and also, Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome (reigning from 27 BC to AD 14) is said by the historian Suetonius to have said, “I found it of brick, but left it of marble”, since marble was rarely used before Augustus’ day.
However, taking my scholar hat off, this is an impressive build, with lovely columns of clearly Ionic styling. The structure conveys the grandeur that is proper to that mighty republic of the past. The trees are particularly nice, with the whips coiled around in an organic way, and evoke the stone pines of Rome well. The folded minifigure capes do a great job as togas, too; you can see a few senators, perhaps, near the sundial in their white togae candidae. My favorite piece usage, though, is the inverted jumper plates for the ladders. The whole thing is impressive. Augustus would be proud.
Singaporean LEGO builder Jeffrey Kong‘s latest composition is a simple yet moving piece marking the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Incident. Kong’s work, both with the brick and with the public, has inspired me many times, and this time its a combination of the two. The scale he’s chosen has brought out a well crafted yet ominous tank and unknown protester, with the large Chinese character 点, imposing its presence. Translated to “a small amount, a dot or a drop”, this character is censored annually on China’s internet. You can read more on Kong’s Instagram. Every part within this build is a common element, leaving a stark example that you don’t need countless complex combinations to achieve an elegant creation. I find the impressive compositions here relate more to the contrasting colour use and symbolism of what it represents. I do thoroughly enjoy the 2×2 round plate with Rounded Bottom that he’s employed inversely as the tank hatch though.
When it comes to collecting LEGO items, there are plenty of avenues to pursue. While vintage LEGO sets and gear are perhaps the most obvious choices, I prefer collecting LEGO ephemera. I have spent many hours scouting out old catalogs, brochures and instructions. Out of all the ephemera I have, period photographs of children enjoying LEGO sets are among my favorite pieces. Owning a retired set is enjoyable, but images from the past help contextualize LEGO products in a way a set alone cannot do. Photographs provide a window into the past when now-retired LEGO products were new, which is why I am sharing some of my favorite photographs with you!
It’s hard to believe twenty years have passed since the release of the first official LEGO Star Wars sets. Unofficially, children and adults alike have been building Star Wars-themed models since the first film hit theaters in 1977. While many of these custom builds have been lost to history, some photographs of Star Wars models made their way into LEGO Club magazines like the UK’s Bricks ‘n Pieces and North America’s LEGO Mania Magazine. One of the earliest models I was able to find was this AT-AT walker from The Empire Strikes Back (1980). That movie was only two years old in 1982, which is when twelve year old Philip Dodge had his model featured in the Summer 1982 issue of Bricks ‘n Pieces. While the photography might not have aged well, his AT-AT looks amazing for having been built during the 1980s.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama has become a BrickHeadz character, complete with a stately looking LEGO rendition of the Oval Office. Irish builder jarekwally built this display for a local LEGO event called Brick Obama, named after the Barack Obama Plaza shopping center where the event was held. Why is there a shopping center in Ireland named after Obama? As it turns out, the former president’s great-great-grandfather once lived in the Irish village of Moneygall. I learned something new!