A History of Lego Duplo


LEGO® DUPLO® is a range of LEGO® product lines for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners roughly from eighteen months to five years of age.[1]  A DUPLO® brick is easily distinguished from a LEGO® brick because it is twice as large.  Brickipedia refers to DUPLO® as a theme (product line), as if it were LEGO® City, but it would be better to think of it as complimenting the LEGO® System (of which LEGO® City is a theme), which is aimed at children, teens, and adults.  For many adults, a DUPLO® kit is simply one of many options when it comes to giving gifts to very young children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, younger siblings, godchildren, or the children of friends, but for adults and teens who grew up playing with LEGO® bricks, especially those who continue to enjoy building LEGO® sets following instructions or building their own original models – known amongst LEGO® enthusiasts as M.O.C.s (short for “My Own Creation”) – the gift of a DUPLO® kit or loose DUPLO® bricks you held onto from your own childhood is a great way to introduce a youngster to the fun of LEGO® building.

Part I: Forerunners of DUPLO®

Before Lego A/S (doing business 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.

Figure 2 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This box of LEGO® Plastic Building Bricks from the 1950s featured 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.

Samsonite

In 1961, The LEGO® Group signed a sales and manufacturing licensing agreement with Samsonite that covered the American and Canadian markets.  In the 1960s and ‘70s, The LEGO® Group and Samsonite, which manufactured LEGO® sets under license from The LEGO® Group, manufactured Jumbo LEGO® Bricks. 

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.  At that point, The LEGO® Group took direct control of producing and marketing toys for the American and Canadian markets.

Part II: DUPLO® Replaces the LEGO® Jumbo Brick

The twenty-five-piece DUPLO® Building Set (Set #514), released in Europe, Australia, and Canada in 1972, and the LEGO® Pre-School Building Set (Set #020), released in the U.S.A. 1973, were identical except for the wording on the boxes.  The twenty-six-piece DUPLO® Building Set (Set #513), released in 1970, and the Pre-School Building Set (Set #030), released in 1972, was also identical except for the words on the boxes.

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.  In other words, these larger bricks would have to interlock with the standard bricks.

To this end, The LEGO® Group tested many variations of the 2:1 scale brick 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 1978, The LEGO® Group introduced the DUPLO® theme.  That same year, The LEGO® Group introduced the LEGO® System themes of LEGOLAND® Town (later LEGO® Town and later still LEGO® City); LEGOLAND® Space (later LEGO® Space); and LEGOLAND® Castle (later LEGO® Castle).

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.  The red bunny looks to the left and his ears are down and from what we can see of his body, he is poised to jump that way.

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).

Part III: DUPLO® Themes and Variations

DUPLO® Town, introduced in 1978, is the DUPLO® counterpart to the LEGO® System’s aforementioned theme LEGO® Town.  [Technically, it still exists, but in 2004, as explained below, the name changed, so it is called “DUPLO® Town (1978-2003)” on Brickipedia.]  DUPLO® Playhouse (1979-1980, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990-1998, 2000-2001, 2004) dovetailed with DUPLO® Town because it consisted of houses and single rooms. The Dacta or LEGO® Education theme DUPLO Community also dovetailed with DUPLO® Town.  Sets, released between 1986 and 2010, have included groups of vehicles, a hospital, a police station, and a fire station.  Between 1976 and 2008, Dacta released a total of thirty-four DUPLO® Learning sets designed to help preschool-aged tots learn about math and spelling.

What was Baby?

Baby was a DUPLO® theme that has existed twice, from 1983 to 1990 and from 2000 to 2005. All sets were aimed at babies (infants and toddlers).  It included rattles, teethers, bathtub toys, and the Rocking Horse Push-Along (Set #2057)

Baby had its own logo.  It was an orange teddy bear sitting behind the word “baby,” which was printed in lower case yellow letters, with a green sphere in the first b’s hole, a blue sphere in the a’s hole, and a red sphere in the second b’s hole.

What was Primo?

LEGO® Primo (1995-1999), also known as DUPLO® Primo, was aimed at children even younger than the preschool-aged tykes who play with DUPLO® bricks, so we’re talking about toddlers, really. Sometimes a LEGO® product line that supplemented DUPLO®, at other times it was a theme of DUPL® or LEGO® Explore.  Primo had its own logo, a yellow elephant with an upturned trunk and eyes glancing to his left (the viewer’s right) over the word Primo. There were eighty-two Primo sets.  They were such things as teethers, rattles, and bathtub toys.

Late 20th Century Developments

The theme DUPLO® Toolo (1992-1993, 1994-2000)  As far as I can tell, every DUPLO® Toolo set came with at least one specially-made screwdriver I will refer to as the DUPLO® Toolo screwdriver, but at least one, Small First Tools for Technology (Set #9105), which was released in 1995, also came with a DUPLO® Toolo wrench.  There were thirty-one sets in the theme, according to Brickipedia, but Brickipedia only lists thirty, and that’s counting a bag of extra screwdrivers and a bag of extra hammers.  Toolo was also a theme in LEGO® Dacta (now known as LEGO® Education), a product line geared at schools – and the Dacta version lasted longer.  Tech Machines Set (Set #9206) was released in 2008.  According to Brickset, the list price was $180. On the DUPLO® Toolo (Dacta) Webpage, Brickipedia lists the Remote Controlled Buggy Set (Set #RC9203), which was released in 2009, as the last Dacta DUPLO® Toolo set, but on the Webpage for that set it is identified as part of the LEGO® System’s TECHNIC theme.  BrickLink also lists it under the headings “Educational & Dacta,” “Duplo,” and “Toolo.”

Between 1984 and 2004, Dacta released eleven DUPLO® Mosaic sets. [Confusingly, DUPLO® released no DUPLO® Mosaic sets.]  Children connected bricks with composite parts of pictures (as with mosaic tiles) rather than studs on top onto baseplates that were vertical rather than horizontal.

In 1998, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The LEGO® Group’s direct entry into the American toy market (rather than through the mediation of Samsonite as a licensee), The LEGO® Group released the Limited Edition DUPLO® Silver Bucket (Set #3029) and the DUPL® 25th Anniversary Tub (Set #3030).  The former came in a silver-colored DUPLO® bucket while the latter came in a tub or tote.  Both sets included a 2×4 chrome silver DUPLO® brick. 

DUPLO® Western (1998) complimented the LEGO® System theme Western (1996-97, 2002), also known as Wild West. While Western’s Minifigures™ consisted of American Indians, cowboys, and (U.S. Army) cavalrymen, DUPLO® Western figures consisted of American Indians, cowboys, a bandit, and a sheriff.  It consisted of nine sets.

LEGO® DUPLO® Dino (1997-1999, 2008-2009) complimented the LEGO® Dacta® subtheme Dino (1997, 2007); the LEGO® System Adventurers subtheme Dino Island (2000); the LEGO® System theme Dinosaurs (2001); and the LEGO® System theme Dinosaur Attack (2005); and the LEGO® System Dino (2011-2012); as well as the licensed LEGO® System themes LEGO® Jurassic Park III (2001) and LEGO® Jurassic World (2015, 2018-2022).  There were sixteen sets in the theme.

Turn of the Century Developments

Little Forest Friends (1999-2004) depicted small humanoids living in the woods.  The humanoid figures were divided into four families: the Bluebells, Meadowseets, Strawberries, and Toadstools.  There were a total of thirteen sets.

Winnie the Pooh (1999-2001, 2011) consisted of nineteen sets.  According to Wikipedia, Winnie the Pooh was DUPLO®’s first licensed theme.  Six sets were released in 1999, one in 2000, and eight in 2001.  No more were released until 2011when three were released to coincide with the release of a new theatrical film, Winnie the Pooh (2011), a film beloved by adults and children alike.  Brickipedia displays the LEGO® Ideas Disney Winnie the Pooh (Set #21326) set as if it was part of the DUPLO® Winnie the Pooh theme, but that’s absurd. LEGO® Ideas Disney Winnie the Pooh uses LEGO®, not DUPLO®, bricks and pieces and most children would need the help of a parent or older sibling to build it.

Action Wheelers (2000-2001) was the DUPLO® counterpart to Race (1985-2000), which was a subtheme of LEGO® System theme LEGO® Town.  There were a total of nine sets.  Action Wheelers relied on the same technology as the aforementioned DUPLO® Toolo theme.  Instead of snapping together, you had to use a screwdriver to fasten pieces together.  This is why each Action Wheelers kit came with a DUPLO® Toolo screwdriver.

DUPLO® Bob the Builder (2001-2002, 2004-2009) was a theme licensed by HiT Entertainment inspired by the popular British children’s stop-motion animated series Bob the Builder (1999-2009).[2] DUPLO® Bob the Builder was part of LEGO® Explore while it existed.  [LEGO® Explore is examined in Part IV.]  There were twenty-nine Bob the Builder sets, a postcard, and two pins.

Dolls (2000-2005) was a theme that represents one of The LEGO® Group’s attempts to make a product line that appealed to girls that yielded disappointing results for the company before they had a breakthrough with the theme LEGO® Friends.  Four of the nine sets consisted of little girl dolls that themselves had even smaller dolls as accessories.  These were Lisa, Marie, Anna, and Sarah’s Big Recipe.  The other sets consisted of furniture or dolls and furniture. Picnic (Set #2954) and Bedroom (Set #2961) just consisted of furniture.  The furniture from the Dolls theme does not appear to be compatible with DUPLO® bricks.  Dolls Medium Set (Set #9126), released in 2001, consisted of two dolls – Lisa and Maria – and furniture.  The number of dolls listed by Brickipedia and BrickLink is misleading because the set came with two dolls and they had two dolls of their own, but Brickipedia and BrickLink lists the set as having four dolls.  The list price was $43.25.   Dolls Large Set (Set #9127), released in 2001, had all four dolls – Lisa, Marie, Anna, and Sarah – and furniture.  The number of dolls listed by BrickLink is misleading because the set came with four dolls who each had their own doll, but BrickLink lists the set as having eight dolls.  According to Brickset, the list price was £78.30.   Family Set (Set #9234), released in 2005, consisted of four dolls and furniture.  Again, the number of dolls listed by Brickipedia and BrickLink is misleading because the set came with four dolls and they had two dolls of their own, but Brickipedia and BrickLink lists the set as having six dolls.  The list price was $89.   Family Set (Set #9215), released in 2007, had five dolls and furniture.  The number of dolls listed by Brickipedia and BrickLink is misleading because the set came with five dolls and they had two dolls of their own, but Brickipedia and BrickLink lists the set as having seven dolls.  Notably, three of the five dolls were boy dolls.  The list price was $104.99.

Part IV: Early 21st Century Developments

DUPLO® Zooters (2001) was a very short-lived theme.  It consisted of three small sets, each of which consisted of a single creature: Goozle, Tez, and Wazo.

What was LEGO® Explore®?

In 2001, with the help of child development experts, The LEGO Group created the LEGO® Explore® discovery system.  “Lego Company is rebranding its 35-year-old Duplo range as Lego Explore,” Marketing Week reported that on May 30, A.D. 2002.  “The new name, part of plans to revitalize the company, will come into effect next month.”[3]

I doubt that it is a coincidence that late in 2001 The LEGO® Group had chosen a new PR firm to represent it worldwide.  It had awarded its global brand advertising account, which was worth £60,000,000, to the firm Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe/Y&R.[4] The turn of the century was a difficult time for The LEGO® Group.  In 2001 – the first year of the 21st Century – Poul Ploughman, LEGO® Group Executive Vice President, announced the company had a deficit of DKK 1,000,000,0000 (£85,000,000).[5]

According to Brickipedia, LEGO® Explore represented a merger of DUPLO® and LEGO® Baby.  In any case, 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.

What was Quatro?

A reader of my article “A Brief History of Lego Duplo” on my more scholarly blog In the Garden City, pointed out that it lacked any reference to LEGO® Quatro.  I explained in response I had not run across it in my research for the original article, my youngest brother was a teen by the time The LEGO® Group introduced Quatro, and my nieces and nephew hadn’t been born yet, but I can address it now. 

Brickipedia refers to LEGO® Quatro (2004-2006) as a Duplo theme, but that doesn’t quite get across the right idea.  Rather, it complimented Duplo the way Duplo compliments the LEGO® System, but it was aimed at even younger children.  If Duplo is aimed at wee tots in the right age range to attend preschool and kindergarten, Quatro was aimed at toddlers.  A Duplo brick is twice the size of a LEGO® brick and a Quatro brick is twice the size of a Duplo brick, so it is four times the size of a LEGO® brick.  Hence the name, quatro, which is Spanish for four.

Quatro sets were on the market from 2004 to 2006.  The Quatro logo was almost exactly like the LEGO® Primo logo, except the elephant was blue instead of yellow and glanced to the right (form the viewer’s perspective) instead of to the left.

Amazon.com has a profile for a Quatro bucket as if it was selling Quatro buckets but currently none are being offered to sale by Amazon or through Amazon Marketplace.  Presumably, the Webpage exists because speculators have offered Quatro buckets for sale relatively recently and might do so again.  One of these buckets came with seventy-five Quatro bricks.  There are a few people offering Quatro buckets or a few Quatro bricks for sale via eBay in addition to a small number offering Quatro buckets or pieces for sale via BrickLink.

According to Brickipedia, only one Quatro set came with a Quatro counterpart to a LEGO® Minifigure™.  This was My First Quatro Figure (Set #5470), released in 2006.  The figure came with a brick-built plane.  The kit had a list price of $9.99.  Presumably because it is so rare, and only one person is offering a single Quatro Figure – without even the other Quatro bricks that came with the kit – for sale on BrickLink, the asking price is an astounding $9,898.

In 2004, the DUPLO® Town theme was rebranded as LEGO® Ville.  Further, DUPLO® Farm, DUPL® Trains, and DUPLO® Zoo were folded into LEGO® Ville as subthemes.  LEGO® DUPLO® Farm was a theme from 1979 to 2004.  Dacta also released DUPLO® Farm sets between 1985 and 2005.  DUPLO® Trains was a theme from 1983 to 2004.  Dacta released DUPLO® Train sets between 1986 and 2006.  DUPLO® Zoo was a theme from 1990 to 2004.  Dacta released DUPLO® Zoo sets between 1991 and 2007.

That same year, 2004, The LEGO® Group introduced the DUPLO® Castle theme.  The theme DUPLO® Castle (2004-2008, 2014) complimented the LEGO® System’s LEGO® Castle theme (1978-2014), which The LEGO® Group has teased would make a comeback with the LEGO® Ideas Medieval Blacksmith set released in 2020 and the 3-in-1 Creator Medieval Castle set released in 2021.  There were thirteen sets plus backpacks (“merch”), books, and a Play Wear & Weaponry Knight’s Sword little boys could wave around and Knight’s Shield

There was a subtheme for girls, Princess Castle (2005, 2007), which featured pink castles.  There were six sets and four books in that subtheme. 

In 2012, The LEGO® Group unveiled the Disney Princess theme for DUPLO®.  [In 2014, The LEGO® Group introduced a complimentary LEGO® System theme, Disney Princess, which used LEGO® System bricks and Mini-Dolls like LEGO® Friends rather than Minifigures™.] The last set that is still for sale in this theme is LEGO® DUPLO® Belle’s Ballroom (Set #10960). With a list price of $19.99, it recreates a scene from Beauty and the Beast (1991), minus the Beast, for some reason).

There were two sets in the subtheme My First LEGO® DUPLO®: My First LEGO® DUPLO® Set (Set #5931) and My First LEGO® DUPLO® Vehicle Set (Set #6052).  Both sets were released in 2011. Eight years later, The LEGO® Group released six sets with names that started with the words “My First.”  These were My First Mickey Build (Set #10989), My First Minnie Build (Set #10897), My First Car Creations (Set #10886), My First Fun Puzzle (Set #10885), My First Balancing Animals (Set #10884), and My First Tow Truck. (Set #10883).

DUPLO® Pirates (2006) complimented the LEGO® System theme Pirates (1989-1997, 2009, 2015).  There were four sets and one activity book: Pirate Ship (Set #7880), Ghost Ship (Set #7881), Shark Attack (Set #7882), and Treasure Hunt (Set #7883).  There was also an activity book.

Today, DUPLO® includes products lines that are designed under license.  Many of them are adapted from or inspired by animated films or television shows made by Disney.  LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Jake and the Neverland Pirates (2013-2015), for example, was adapted from Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates (2012-2016), which in turn was a continuation for a preschool audience of Disney’s theatrical film Peter Pan (1953) and the sequel Return to Never Land (2002).[6]

LEGO® DUPL® Thomas & Friends (2005-2010) was inspired by the immensely popular British children’s television show Thomas & Friends (1984-2021), which was broadcast in the U.S.A. on P.B.S., and was the first TV series to feature Thomas the Tank Engine.[7] This was the second theme to be licensed from HiT Entertainment.[8]  There were seventeen sets in the theme.

In 2011, The LEGO® Group began to roll out a new LEGO® System theme, Super Heroes with two subthemes: Marvel (licensed from Disney) and DC (licensed from Warner Bros.).[9]  DUPLO® DC sets have complimented the LEGO® System’s LEGO® Batman theme and LEGO® Super Heroes DC Universe Super Heroes theme, as well as The LEGO® Batman Movie theme that promoted and took advantage of The LEGO® Batman Movie (2017), and sets with Batman that tied into The LEGO® Movie (2014), and The LEGO® Movie 2: The Second Part (2019).

DUPLO® Spidey Amazing Friends has replaced LEGO® DUPLO® Marvel Super Hero Adventures.  The set Spider-Man Headquarters, released last year under this banner, promotes the animated series Spidey and His Amazing Friends, a show I know at least two of my young nieces like.[10]

LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ PIXAR™ Toy Story (2010-2019); Disney™ Planes (2013); LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Pixar™ Cars (2010-2012); LEGO® DUPLO® THE LEGO® Movie 2™; and LEGO® DUPLO® Mickey Mouse & Friends, also known as LEGO® DUPLO® Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (2013-2014), are other recent licensed themes that are no longer in production.  As of this writing, The LEGO® Group will soon release the LEGO® DUPLO® Jurassic World set Dinosaur Nursery (Set #10938).

Figure 14 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is DUPLO® Sofia the First Royal Castle (Set #10595), a retired product from LEGO® DUPLO® Disney™ Princess.

Figure 15 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is DUPLO® Airport (Set #10590) from LEGO® DUPLO® My DUPLO® Town.

Figure 16 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is DUPLO® Rally Car (Set #10589) from LEGO® DUPLO® My DUPLO® Town.

Figure 17 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: This is DUPLO® Café (Set #10587).

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: Spider-Man Spider Truck Adventure (Set #10608) 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 DUPLO© My First Circus (Set #10504), 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).  The new DUPLO® logo is visible on this box.  It features a red bunny again, but he is looking to the viewer’s right, his left arm is up, and his right ear is down.  It has the colorful spheres from the old LEGO®Baby logo, with a green sphere in the hole of the d (instead of the first b), a blue sphere in the hole of the p (instead of the a), and a red sphere in the hole of the o (instead of the second b).

Figure 26 Credit: Courtesy of The LEGO Group Caption: Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, Ph.D., former C.E.O. of The LEGO® Group, holds a LEGO® DUPLO® box.[11] 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 of 14% less paper.

DUPLO® Games

DUPLO® Little Forest Friends Counting Game (Set #GA08), released in 2000, consisted of sixteen pieces.  This included four of the humanoid DUPLO® Figures from the Forest Friends theme.

DUPLO® Picture Lottery, released in 2009, was a boardgame that consisted of thirty picture cards, five game plates, and instructions.  According to Brickset, the list price was $14.99 in the U.S.A. and £8.79 in the U.K.

DUPLO® Apps

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.  There is a new LEGO® DUPLO® Train app that is designed to work with Blutooth train sets.  The two sets it works with are LEGO® DUPLO® Cargo Train (Set #10875) and LEGO® DUPLO® Steam Train (Set #10874).  Based on the copyright, it launched in 2018, but it was updated as recently as March of 2022.

In October of 2019, The LEGO® Group and the Irish app development firm Touch Press, Ltd. launched the LEGO® DUPLO® WORLD app via the App Store and Google Play.  It was designed to align with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework developed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center.[12]  It was released under the StoryToys brand, StoryToys being a subsidiary of Touch Press, Ltd.  The LEGO® DUPLO® WORLD app won the KAPI Award for Best App 2020, Mom’s Choice® Gold Award 2020, and the Licensing International Excellence Awards 2020.  The American Library Association placed it on the 2021 Digital Media List.  In 2021, LEGO® DUPLO® WORLD won the Kidscreen Award for Best Preschool Learning App- Branded.[13]  By that time, it had been downloaded over 16,000,000 times.[14]  The app is free, but parents should note that it has content you have to pay to access.  Parents can pay $29.99 per year for an upgraded account to access everything.

In addition, there is a LEGO® DUPLO® Marvel app.  Developed by StoryToys, it features 3D animation of the DUPLO® version of Marvel Super Heroes, including Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Captain America, plus other DUPLO® Figures in an environment with virtual DUPLO® bricks.  An account costs $19.99 per year.  

Figure 27 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is the featured image from The LEGO® Group’s press release for the launch of the LEGO® DUPLO® WORLD app in 2019.

DUPLO® in The LEGO Movies

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®.

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ENDNOTES


[1] This is a revised and expanded version of “A Brief History of Lego Duplo” on my more scholarly blog, In the Garden City.

[2] HiT stands for Henson International Television.  In 1982, Jim Henson (1936-1990) founded the company in 1982 with Peter Orton and (1943-2007) Sophie Turner Laing as the distribution arm of The Jim Henson Company.  Later in the decade, when Henson was negotiating with The Walt Disney Company to sell The Jim Henson Company ( a deal which collapsed on his death, but led to his children selling The Muppets characters along with the word Muppet to Disney in 2004) Orton persuaded Henson to sell HiT to him and other HiT executives in 1989.  It then became HiT Communications and HiT Entertainment in 1992.  Keith Chapman, an advertising executive, sold his idea for Bob the Builder to HiT Entertainment in 1996.  [Chapman is also known now as the creator of the C.G.I. animated series PAW Patrol.]  In 2005, the private equity firm Apax Partners acquired HiT for $934,000,000.

[3] “Lego builds new image with Duplo rebranding,” 30 May, 2002, Marketing Week (https://www.marketingweek.com/lego-builds-new-image-with-duplo-rebranding/) Accessed 04/14/22

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] The Disney films are adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and 1911 novel Peter Pan and Wendy.

[7] The show Thomas & Friends (1984-2021) was inspired by The Railway Series of children’s books written by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry (1911-1997), and his son, Christopher Awdry.  The books written by Rev. Awdry, an Anglican vicar, were published between 1945 and 1972, and the books written by his son were published between 1983 and 2011. A new American show, Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go started in 2021.

[8] In 2002, HiT Entertainment acquired the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine via the purchase of Gullane Entertainment.  In 2011, the American toy manufacturer Mattel purchased HiT Entertainment, primarily, it seems to acquire Thomas the Tank Engine characters, from Apax Partners for $680,000,000.  HiT became part of Mattel’s Fisher-Price division.  In 2014, Mattel purchased the Canadian toy manufacturer Mega Brands (previously known as Mega Bloks), a competitor of The LEGO® Group for $450,000,000.  It is no great surprise, consequently, that Mega Bloks makes Thomas & Friends toys now.

[9] Previously, between 2006 and 2008, The LEGO® Group released DUPLO® sets with Batman under license from DC Comics (owned by Warner Bros.).

[10] The title of the show is clearly a reference to the animated series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-1983), but the premise is clearly inspired by Sony’s animated film Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse (2018).

[11] At the time the picture was taken, Dr. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp was C.E.O. of The LEGO® Group.  Now, he is (a) a member of the Board of Directors of The LEGO® Group; (b) Executive Chairman of LEGO Brand Group; and (c) a member of the Board of Merlin Entertainments, Limited, the company that owns the LEGOLAND® theme parks; and (d) a member of the Board of Starbucks.

[12] For some reason, in The LEGO® Group’s press release about the launch of the app LEGO® DUPLO® WORLD and in explanatory material for the app posted by StoryTime, they keep misspelling Head Star “Headstart.”

[13] “StoryToys’Lego Duplo World app clicks with Kidscreen award,” 19 February, 2021, TechCentral.ie (https://www.techcentral.ie/storytoys-lego-duplo-world-app-clicks-with-kidscreen-award/) Accessed 04/14/22

[14] Ibid

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