The name Lego originates from Ole Kirk himself, who set up a competition to find a name for his company, and promptly won it himself. He joined together the Danish words "LEg GOdt" (which mean "play well" or more loosely "have fun playing") to get the "Lego" we know today.
Lego by now has an extensive range of products. The main product lines (in order of the age at which a child might come across them) are:
A decidedly pre-school range, Lego Primo consists of large plastic blocks with "lumps" on them rather than normal studs, in the aim of making them easy to fit together. The Primo range also includes rattles, bath-toys and other toys that are liked by very young children.
Lego Duplo is still more in the pre-school area of a child's life. It includes large plastic blocks with more traditional-looking Lego "studs", but is still fairly limited in terms of what can be built from it - although, oddly enough, Lego Duplo provides the structure underneath those large Lego models you see in the parks, such as at Billund in Denmark or Windsor in the U.K. - smaller Lego bricks being added on the outside to provide the detail required. Nevertheless, the Duplo product line is extensive, even featuring train sets and, more recently, "Action Wheelers" which use a screw-driver rather than studs.
Lego Znap is a widely ignored part of the Lego range. It proposes, basically, to imitate the style of K'Nex - you know, rather tacky looking without much detail - and involves clips and joints rather than studs. Only on the market for about three years, Znap has had very limited sucess, it would seem.
Previously known as "Legoland", and then "Lego System" this is what most people think of when they imagine Lego. It features the classic bricks (sometimes referred to as "Ur-bricks") along with an assortment of other pieces both structural and decorative and, of course, the Lego minifigures - the little people with moveable arms and legs. Classic Lego is further broken down in to its different "themes", including Town, Space, Castle and, up until very recently, Pirates and Aquazone. Lego sets themselves have since around 1995 become more "easy-build", as the Lego company struggles to overcome the viewpoint of maturing children that playing with Lego over the age of aroung 8 is "sad" - a viewpoint real Lego maniacs suffer through intensively - thus having to set its sights on a younger audience. A real boom in Lego sales occured with the release of sets to tie in with the Star Wars movies, and Lego are hoping that Harry Potter toys will help their dwindling profit margin (Harry Potter Lego is due to be released Summer 2001, by the way).
Lego Technic is (or used to be) for a more advanced audience. It includes all the "working parts" that you would require to make proper machines and mechanisms - such as gears, beams, axles and even differentials and motors. Launched in the late 1970s, Technic has now changed, like the original Lego, to try and attract a younger audience. New ranges include Slizer (or "Throwbots" in the U.S./ Canada), Roboriders and Speed Slammers - none of which offer any interesting technical features, although they do contain some new elemnts which are fascinating to experiment with. Lego Technic has also diversified into the Star Wars universe, and there are three sets available allowing you to build robots from Episode 1.
This is a new Lego range that, so far, only includes two Star Wars models - the X-Wing and TIE Fighter. Containing 1300 pieces and 800 pieces and retailing at £115 and £80 (in the UK) respectively, these are huge sets which are "to scale" with the original vehicles. They are aimed at ages 14+. (Go to site http://www.lego.com/starwars/ultimatecollector for more information)
Launched in 1998, Mindstorms is perhaps the most fascinating of all the Lego ranges. Mindstorms comprises several sets which contain "intelligent bricks" - ones containing a computer chip, most of which are programmable in some way. The intention is that people should be able to build and programme their own robots with these sets. Lego aims these sets at teenagers and over (ages 12+), and really there is no point in buying these sets for younger children - building and programming your own robots is often difficult and complicated, although worth it in the end. This is Lego's most successful product line in recent years, as it draws attention from people of all agegroups - as long as they can afford to pay the high prices for the sets.
Much more information about the Lego company and its products can be found at http://www.lego.com For those interested in the programmeable bricks of Lego Mindstorms, it too has its own page at http://mindstorms.lego.com . Lego sets will soon be available over the internet from [url removed by moderator] - but at the moment this is down for improvement.
Thank you to "Donut Doctor" and "Sho" who have provided some of the information for this article. I do intend to continue to edit it, and if anyone would like me to include their information in it, please let me know.