|In 1957, Karl Georg Kirk Kristiansen was appointed head of the plastics division and Gerhardt Kirk Christiansen was appointed head of the wood products division of the LEGO company. The following year, founder Ole Kirk Christiansen died at age 67. Godtfred Kirk Christiansen took over as head of the LEGO company in 1958. At this time there were 4 brothers in the LEGO company: Gerhardt, Johannes, Godtfred and Karl Georg.|
|Danish trademark records show that the LEGO company first registered the BILOfix name in 1959. It was in this year that the LEGO company decided to market all "non-brick" LEGO products under the BILOfix brand. Gerhardt Kirk Christiansen was the manager for this part of the production. The name is said to represent "Billions of wooden toys". The wooden beam product for which the BILOfix name is best known, was reportedly developed by Gerhardt at this time.|
|On 4 February 1960, the LEGO department for wooden toy production burned down (for the third time). After much consideration, it was decided to discontinue production of wooden toys and to concentrate solely on plastic toys. As a result, two of the brothers; Karl Georg and Gerhardt decided to leave the LEGO company and start their own separate businesses.|
|Gerhardt Kirk Christiansen established the BILOfix company in Kolding, Denmark, in February 1962, where a new 3,250 square metre factory was built. At this time, 90% of the factory's production was sold in Scandanavia, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany.|
|Trade literature issued in 1967 in the UK by BILO TOYS LTD., Richard Leys, Kettering, Northants, features BILOfix products throughout, but shows the BILOfix and BILOtoy logos with equal prominance on the front cover, so we know that BILOfix was still available in the UK in 1967.|
|The following is an interesting article from a German publication entitled "Life and Education". Published in November 1967, it documents a visit to the BILOfix factory and interview with the founder. Translation from German to English by Martin Käsermann:
A box of building blocks devours whole forests.One can build toys with this toy.
For children, a toy is like a tool. They use it like the adult uses hammer and pliers. Who does ask for the inventor’s name of the hammer or the little doll? Are there toys inventors at all? Do they just get invented by accident by some hobbyist? Our colleague met an expert in neighbouring Denmark, an expert, who decided that toys will become his life-task.
Have you seen a car before, whose whole bodywork was constructed from the parts of a box of wooden building blocks?
This special vehicle wasn’t on show at the big Frankfurt car show; we just met it in the small Danish town Kolding on the courtyard of the toys factory Bilotoy. Who does this wooden car owe its existence? Was it a crazy hobbyist? Not at all! One day the Danish toys manufacturer Christiansen had a funny idea: He wanted to build a car from Bilotoy himself, like thousands of kids do every day -- only it should be larger and more impressing -- as it behoves for the boss. And a wooden "veteran car" was created with everything needed: Windshield wiper, direction indicator and – and a real engine.
The car isn't the best Bilo can do, but it just is as unparalleled as the whole Bilo system. Why unparalleled? Aren't there boxes of building blocks in many variations, what kind of difference is there? This is a system of wooden building blocks, which lasts for a kid’s life and infinitely offers itself to the imagination of the child to build a near reality toy itself from this.
The exhibition hall of Bilotoy therefore looks exactly as children from age of three to thirteen probably imagine the paradise. There are lots of helicopters and little horses of giraffes and Cranes of ships, airplanes, doll’s pram and small Hollywood swing. There is simply nothing you wouldn’t imaging and there is this whole splendour again and again built only from beams, blocks, thread sticks, wheels, plastic screws and nuts. And the things are as stable as a child could wish. "One can build scooters or a small bench, to comfortably sit on it ", the expert tells us. And later once the children are grown up, they can use the elements to build a bookshelf."
In another part of the hall it looks as if the figures had quite suddenly woken up and are moving. This is the great news of the system which was introduced only this month: Small and large cogwheels, angle cogwheels and worm gear fit together and add movement to the play.
One feels that years of preparatory work were necessary before this system of strips, screws and nuts was ready. "My idea was”, the inventor Christiansen comments ", that would make our children technology conceivable in a natural way. It shouldn't be bound to an age and there should be nothing they couldn't build with these elements. On the other hand, every part had to fit so that the box of building blocks could be extended anytime. And in particular: I wanted to make nothing complicated, or confusing; something, that is straight forward and logically. Learn to play – play with a system - this was the idea."
With all the already existing toys from all around the world, this novelty was quite a risk.
Christiansen knew from many tests with Copenhagen children that children liked to play with Bilo. But what about the parents, who are the buyers, would they like it? It only took two years. "The demand suddenly got so big” Christiansen tells, "that we had to build a new plant for production, administration and exhibition here in Kolding." 40000 blocks and 150000 beams were the daily production of six automatic machines especially designed and constructed for that.
And then, there was recognition, honours and prices everywhere. It began, that educationalists found the system brilliant in many countries and recommended the toy to parents, kindergartens and teachers. England's Ministry of Education made Bilotoy the compulsory toy for kindergarten in London. In Paris Bilotoy was listed in a catalogue for educational toys and in October 1965 Bilotoy got the price in Paris for "Meilleur Jouet 1965" and was awarded to the best educational toy of the year. In the same year "Jeppe 1965" was awarded to Bilotoy, the ceramic rocking horse year is awarded to the best toy of the year by a Danish subdivision of UNESCO and Bilo likewise got the "Initiativdiplom of Danish work" in 1965 awarded. Germany decorated the Danish building system with the badge "Spiel gut" and the Japanese government presented Christiansens invention for the highest toys award as the first no Japanese toy.
Awards oblige. "We got very high demands to the quality", explains Christiansen. " We can use only the best 40 per cent of first-class, right veined and branch free beech wood. We have processed 10000 fully grown beeches in 1965; this corresponds to a forest of about 35 hectares." An engineer runs professedly through the factory building and explains that the automation has tripled the average production per worker and shows the latest achievement: A photoelectric counting machine. It guarantees the correct numbers of screws and nuts for every single box. The production is up to 13500 boxes per day on an automatic assembly line.
Besides this in the storeroom there are giant packages which are ready to be shipped around the world to be sold on time before Christmas in the toyshops around the globe. " Also this year we have got many enquiries from other parts of the world again, which also want to import our toy, the idea has gained acceptance." In Germany also?. The German managing director says: "In Germany it seams to take a bit longer than in the other countries. We’re already present in Germany for 3 years."
Have the awards and successes changed the toys fan Christiansen? It doesn't look so at all. " You see, I almost forgot to show you a little what is very important to me." He gets a clay imprint of a tiny child hand which is wrapped up into the letter of a Danish nursery-school teacher out from its desk drawer. It is said in the letter, that “You’ve given my kids with your building block system so much joy that they have thought for long, what they could give you as a present to thank you.
We then thought that you would like something the children have made themselves. So we have immortalized the little hand of our smallest nursery school visitor in clay and send you the imprint as a small sign of our gratitude. This is as much as a medal from famous people" assures Christiansen. It shows to me, that I have succeeded in giving children pleasure. And this is actually all that counts."
Excerpt from "life and education" no. 11/67.
|Excerpts from 1959 Danish catalogue - click to enlarge|