LEGO® DUPLO® is a range of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, DUPLO® includes products lines that are designed under license, such as Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates. The current full range of DUPLO® themes (product lines) are My First DUPLO® Sets, My DUPLO® Town, Pink Building Farm, DC Comics Super Heroes, Disney™ Pixar Cars™, Disney™ Planes, Disney™ Princess, Disney™ Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Disney™ Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. There are five DUPL® Apps: LEGO® DUPLO® Forest, LEGO® DUPLO® Ice Cream, LEGO® DUPLO® Circus, LEGO® DUPLO® Food, and LEGO® DUPLO® Train.