Somewhere in the dark, curly recess of my mind, I remember the tactile feel and the alluring possibilities presented by a very old wooden box filled with stone building blocks. I can’t, for the life of me, remember where they came from or why they came to be in the basement of my childhood home. Perhaps they had been gifted to my older sister, who was far too mature to be playing with such infantile artifacts.
I must have been considered too young to play with them, although how I could harm stone blocks, I’m not sure. But they were antiques and they had come from overseas. Tucked safely into the box were elaborate instructions on how to build fanciful castles and churches. As alluring as this box of stones was, they were mostly off-limits to me.
My experiences with building things ended with the classic wooden children’s blocks with letters of the alphabet engraved on the sides. My friends down the street were luckier. They had fancy Lincoln Logs, a very American toy invented by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright. The round, redwood Lincoln Logs had notched ends to lock corners together, reminiscent of the old, dilapidating log cabins that dotted the Wyoming landscape.
Like Sesame Street, I just missed the Legos revolution. Lego, derived from Danish words leg godt, (play well), were introduced in 1932 by a carpenter from Billund, Denmark as wooden construction cubes for children. They were later redesigned as interlocking plastic pieces, and in 1949 The Lego Group began serious manufacturing and marketing of the interlocking plastic pieces that would come to bedevil many a bare foot. Legos jumped the ocean sometime in the 1950s, but were not as well-known as today. With clever marketing, Legos have become ubiquitous among children of all ages and even into adulthood. Currently Legoland theme parks exist in Denmark, England, Germany, United States, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Japan, with more planned in the future. I can’t think of Legos without remembering a friend’s grandson who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 4. Little Isaac had two passions for the remainder of his 7-year life: The Bronco Nation and Legos. His Lego projects helped him through countless excruciating treatments and surrounded him on his deathbed.
That box of Anker Steinbaukasten (Anchor stone building box) never surfaced when we emptied my mother’s home. Perhaps she’d given them to a charity or a museum. I would love to have them again. The idea for sets of blocks of different sizes and shapes originated with German educator, Friedrich Froebel. Brothers Otto and Gustav Lilienthal developed the original recipe for quartz sand, chalk, and linseed oil from which stone blocks were made based upon Froebel’s wooden blocks. The stones were more stable than wooden blocks, inviting more intricate designs. As is often the case, the Lilienthals’ creative talents did not extend to marketing. It took entrepreneur, Friedrich Adolf Richter, to bring the concept of Anchor Stones to life in Rudolstadt, Germany in 1884. Production ceased after WWII because supply and shipping chains broke down when Rudolstadt became part of East Germany. After reunification, a small group of enthusiasts joined forces to open a small production factory to breathe life back into Anker Steinbaukasten. I can just feel those earthy-colored stones between my fingers.