Thousands of Lego enthusiasts gathered in Chantilly, Virginia, in August for Brickfair, an annual expo showcasing elaborate creations made with the iconic interlocking plastic blocks loved by multiple generations of kids (and adults). This year’s event was particularly noteworthy, in that Lego celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2022. Since its humble beginnings, it has won the world over, becoming one of the most recognizable brands in the toy industry.
Lego isn’t only for kids anymore. In the past two years, with its 18-plus line, Lego has released sets geared specifically toward adults. But what if you’re a military history buff? Lego has taken a strong stance against producing sets representing war (unless it’s Star Wars), such as tanks or fighter planes. The good news, though, is the emergence of a community of enthusiasts and companies that cater specifically to the consumer that Lego has left out—and among these, Brickmania sets the industry standard.
Established in 1999 by Dan Siskind, Brickmania designs, packages, and sells military-themed kits using genuine Lego pieces and building techniques. Brickmania’s USS Arizona (BB-39) kit, pictured at left, uses 1,633 genuine Lego pieces to create a truly spectacular model of the standard-type battleship.
Brickmania operates five retail locations nationwide; its Vallejo, California, location—Brickmania Mare Island—features a 26-foot long minifigure-scale (1:40) model of the USS Missouri (BB-63), complete with a depiction of the Japanese surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945. (Visit Brickmania.com for more information.)
Though not an officially supported Lego theme, the military section always draws huge crowds, and Brickfair 2022 was no exception; Brickmania had a booth and staff on hand, and the Naval History and Heritage Command had a representative in attendance. One display really stood out. Built by 21-year-old Caden Burton, the display is titled “Battle of Okinawa.” It depicts U.S. Marine Corps infantry landing on Hagushi Beach on 1 April 1945. The display used an estimated 70,000 pieces and took roughly a year to complete.
“Okinawa had been an idea for quite a while, and this year it finally has come to fruition. I had a great grandfather who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His ship was a part of the fleet present at Okinawa,” Burton said.
“Lego has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, and history has as well. My first Brickfair event as an exhibitor was in 2015, and I’ve been building World War II displays since. One of the things I love about it is the amount of time and research I put into my projects. In most cases, people walk away having learned something new.”
One of the missions of the U.S. Naval Institute is to advance the understanding of naval history. Videogames such as World of Warships, YouTube channels such as Drachinifel, companies such as Brickmania, and passionate individuals demonstrate that advancement of the public’s interest in naval history comes in many forms and media. No matter the source, the passion and interest for the subject matter always remain the same. We are certainly looking forward to seeing more from this ever-growing community of Lego/history enthusiasts and to participating in the future.