LEGO Building Systems: History Told in Microscale

LEGO has a rich corporate history. It’s only fitting that the LEGO building systems have now been used to capture some of the historical products, as well as occasional owner-family references. Join BrickNerd as we look at a sampling of the many sets with historical references, some of them very tiny!

LEGO Building Systems (40505) is the latest LEGO House exclusive set. It pays homage to the three primary LEGO building systems: Duplo, System and Technic. One of the keys to LEGO’s early success was the implementation of a “system of play” where products were all compatible. I’m sure even Godtfred Kirk Christiansen (GKC – second generation owner) couldn’t have imagined how a “system of play” would eventually become a “system of systems”!

In the set provided to BrickNerd by LEGO, each of the three systems is represented by an iconic product shrunk down in midi-scale on a separable display stand. The background outline mimics the actual LEGO House history collection displays in their basement, even incorporating a touch of the gold accent color.

I like how a very early product from each system was chosen to be depicted for the display. This emphasizes the historical aspect, but just as importantly, the lasting durability of each building system. The Duplo Train is a combination of sets 2700 and 2705 to illustrate a combination cargo and passenger train. The Town Plan replicates the many different baseboards, buildings, and vehicles that could be combined to build your own town. And finally 853 Car Chassis is cleverly built upside down to give the impression of Technic elements.

The sketch model (like a prototype build) was designed by LEGO House Master Builder Stuart Harris. Senior Designer Markus Rollbühler finalized the design and brought everything up to retail design standards. This marks the fourth year the two have teamed up on the LEGO House exclusive sets—quite the dream team! Besides the three historical sets representing each of the three building systems, Markus also incorporated 19 microscale models hidden on the back to create a historical timeline of LEGO products.

This was a very nice addition to the sketch model, and further ties the model in with the LEGO House History Collection.

Small Models Illustrating a Big History

Let’s take a close-up look at all the micro-build models and compare them to their original LEGO inspirations, starting with the first section.

The wooden duck has become the single model most commonly used to represent the LEGO wooden toy era. Additionally, Automatic Binding Bricks established the basic dimensions for all the bricks to follow but lacked the all-important clutch power of the stud and tube connection.

The wooden fire truck was another popular wooden toy produced in several variations. This was replicated in brick form in 2023 as the LEGO Inside Tour exclusive set 4000040. Town plan era 651 Mercedes HO (1:87) scale truck was one of many different vehicles and color combinations produced.

I’ve included pictures of the actual sets below in this scrolling gallery if you want to compare them to their microscale counterparts above.

The Era of ABS

The next section enters the era of ABS plastic. One of the earliest brick-built trains was set 127 which ran on the blue rails. Trains continue to be a perennial favorite subject for LEGO models. The iconic 375 Yellow Castle with its brick-built horses was an early favorite after the introduction of the Minifigure.

Early Duplo sets such as 514 brought a new LEGO building system to a younger audience. Likewise, Technic sets such as the 850 forklift kept older builders engaged with the third of the three primary LEGO building systems.

And lastly, the 497 Galaxy Explorer was another iconic product and helped start the ongoing friendly AFOL rivalry of space vs. castle.

The Three Systems

This section starts to highlight all three systems from around the same time. Duplo trains 2700 and 2705 were combined for the main train model on the front. 6285 Black Seas Barracuda is perhaps the most iconic LEGO pirate ship ever.

2655 Duplo Farm was another of the popular early products introducing multiple play features along with a big assortment of animals and characters.

8480 Technic Space Shuttle featured many movable components along with wonderful fiber optic lights! 9719 Mindstorms was a revolutionary LEGO product that really opened new possibilities for model functions with the programable RCX brick.

Modern Era

The last section brings us up to date. Bionicle was another LEGO building system that enjoyed considerable success. It is represented in the history timeline by 8534 Tahu that was packaged in a cylindrical canister.

The enduring original LEGO theme Ninjago is shown using the beautiful 70751 Temple of Airjitzu. LEGO Ideas theme features fan inspired models that are refined and produced as official sets. 21318 LEGO Ideas Tree House is nicely depicted in micro scale form.

Cranes are a recurring subject in the Technic building system. The 42108 model is shown as one of the possible microscale inspirations. Friends is another big success among LEGO original themes. 41095 Emma’s House was a good choice for capturing the design aesthetic of the theme.

The final empty spot is intended for fans to build and display a microscale version of their own favorite LEGO model.

Personalizing the Model

Following the encouragement of the designers, I tried my hand at creating a microscale model to incorporate into the set. It’s harder than it looks!

One of my favorite sets is 3724 Ollie the LEGO Dragon. I have very fond memories of building it years ago with my children when they were young. My model is more miniature than microscale, but I think it conveys the idea well. I certainly miss those finger hinges I used for feet!

The display had to be rearranged to make room. (You’ll get to see a real microscale dragon later in the article.)

To Duplo or Not to Duplo?

One interesting aspect of the design of 40505 LEGO Building Systems is that even though it celebrates all three systems, there aren’t any actual Duplo elements included! The background uses system bricks to mimic Duplo 2 x 2 bricks. I’m sure this is due to design or logistics constraints at LEGO but I can’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity.

Just for fun, I tried replacing the system bricks with real Duplo. I certainly prefer the look of the Duplo from the front, even if there isn’t a huge difference. But there’s a big price to be paid on the back of the model. The Duplo bricks extend further back, which interferes with the history timeline aspect of the model. You would almost need a half-Duplo brick to pull it off.

The disruption of the overall design aesthetic is the biggest negative. So once again, the designers seem to have found the best overall compromise solution by making the faux-Duplo bricks for the front of the model.

Are There Any LEGO Building System Trifecta Sets?

While toying with the idea of using real Duplo bricks in the set, we wondered if there had ever been any sets with elements from all three building systems. We put LEGO’s Corporate Historian, Kristian Reimer Hauge on the spot and posed the question during the product reveal. He couldn’t immediately recall any with all three building systems and said he’d have to look into it more.

But this is BrickNerd afterall, and we’ve dredged up a few examples that included all three, even if just barely. Kristian likely was thinking of traditional Duplo bricks, but the following sets each have a Duplo system monkey tail element or a Duplo ball (no bricks).

How about you? Can you think of other sets with all three systems? Let us know in the comments!

History Lessons In LEGO House

From here, I am going to shift focus in this article from the most recent LEGO House exclusive set to talk about LEGO and microscale history in general. While the five sets released in the series are quite remarkable, there is so much more history to be explored in LEGO House.

LEGO House Exclusive Series: 40501 Wooden Duck, 40502 Moulding Machine, 40503 Dagny Holm Master Builder, 40504 Minifigure Tribute, 40505 LEGO Building Systems

Besides all the wonderful experience zones, the LEGO House has really embraced their role as the premier publicly accessible custodian of LEGO history. Sure, there is the LEGO Idea House across the street with “The Vault” of all the sets ever released, but they are generally only accessible to LEGO employees and guests on special tours.

History is woven throughout LEGO House, from life-size sculptures of the first three generations of the owner family (in cartoon form from The LEGO Story short film) to the lenticular mosaic of four generations of the family leadership.

There are also multiple historical family and product references in the trunk and branches of the massive Tree of Creativity. And this doesn’t even include the History Collection in the basement!

Another (Subtle) LEGO Building Systems Tribute

There was actually one LEGO House exclusive set that came out several years ago before this numbered series began that was a subtle tribute to all three building systems: 40366 LEGO House. Each of the three huge dinosaurs (and the baby hatchlings) in LEGO House is built from Duplo, System, or Technic elements. They are really a joy to see in person and to discover the amazing parts usage.

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Somewhat like the 40505 LEGO Building Systems model, the three smaller dinos are primarily system bricks trying to replicate the feel of the three building systems.

LEGO History in Microscale

LEGO also has a fondness for celebrating its history in smaller scales. I’ve collected a few examples so you can see the history of LEGO in miniature.

First up of several LEGO employee holiday gifts, this one from 2016 (4002016) celebrated 50 years of LEGO Train models. Six notable trains were featured in a downsized scale: 113 Motorized Train Set from 1966, 726 Western Train from 1976, 6990 Monorail Transport System from 1987, 4558 Metroliner from 1991, 10194 Emerald Night from 2009, and 10254 Winter Holiday Train from 2016.

Next is Gift With Purchase (GWP) set 40290 from 2018 that celebrated 60 years of the LEGO brick. This small timeline of miniaturized iconic sets included 6399 Airport Shuttle, 375 Yellow Castle, 6285 Black Seas Barracuda and 928 Galaxy Explorer.

Most recently, 40563 Tribute To LEGO House from 2022 was another GWP celebrating the fifth anniversary of the LEGO House opening. Miniature versions of five exclusive sets available from the LEGO House were included which you can read about in my previous article.

A Major Microscale Spoiler Alert

Lastly, If any of you received the 2023 LEGO Employee Gift and have not built it, you might want to skip to the end of this article. I’m going to show the 24 micro-models included as daily surprises as we continue our look at LEGO brick-built history in microscale.

The 4002023 Gingerbread House advent calendar features four customizable and separable gingerbread houses. The daily surprises follow the typical formula for retail advent sets—four minifigures and 20 microscale builds. But this time, they followed a deliberate theme of LEGO history.

This set was also designed by Markus Rollbühler, and he has said he happened to be working on this and the microscale finds in the LEGO Building Systems exclusive at approximately the same time. While a few of the “must have” microbuild subjects were repeated like the Wooden Duck (in slightly different forms), the two sets include an expanded range of historical models.

Here are the historical microscale models included in the 2024 LEGO employee holiday gift:

Carpenter with hammer (while not a literal Ole Kirk Christiansen minifigure, one can’t help but notice some similarities!)

Ole Kirk’s House (Lion House) set 4000007 from 2012

Wooden Duck

Woodworking bench with vise

Early plastic injection molding machine

Ferguson Tractor 4000025 LEGO Inside Tour set from 2018 L, a remake of an early plastic toy

Woman with scissors, speculated to represent Dagny Holm

1950’s LEGO mascot

Town Plan

Red Sports Car 4000000 from 2010

LEGOLAND Billund Train 4000014 from 2014

Marching band member and Dragon Coaster (or Ollie)

Yellow Castle 375 from 1978 (nearly the same as in LEGO Building Systems)

Galaxy Explorer 928 from 1979 (similar to the version in LEGO Building Systems)

Boy with paintbrush, possibly a little GKC inspiration here with multiple coats of paint

Black Seas Barracuda 6285 from1989 (similar to the version in LEGO Building Systems)

LEGO Truck 3221 from 2010

Ninjago Gardens 71741 from 2021

Friendship Treehouse 41703 from 2022

LEGO House 21037 from 2017

Girl with duck

Dots 41906 Pineapple Pencil Holder from 2020

Danish flag motif wrapped gift

Christmas tree

A LEGO Building Systems Tribute in Microscale

We felt that the best way to wrap up this article about history and microscale was to honor LEGO Building Systems in miniature form. Please enjoy this tiny tribute to the new set, built by none other than Dave Schefcik, our very own Nerd-in-Chief!

This concludes our look at some of the ways LEGO history has been portrayed through LEGO bricks and in microscale. There have been quite a few other easter eggs in other sets, but we have featured items where the main focus was on historical aspects of LEGO.

I’ve no doubt there will be other tributes in the years to come, especially as we approach the 100th anniversary of LEGO coming in 2032. But one thing certain: LEGO House will be leading the way with more brick-built history!

DISCLAIMER: This set was provided to BrickNerd by The LEGO Group. Any opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

What chapters of LEGO history are you hoping to be recognized in model form? Let us know in the comments below.

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