Rolling, rolling, rolling: Lego, the world's biggest tire maker

For 50 years, the famous toy maker has turned out little plastic wheels. Last year, it produced a mind-boggling 381 million.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
This month marks 50 years since Lego began making tires. Now it is the largest maker of tires in the world, even if you wouldn't want to drive on any of them. Lego

When you think of the giant tire manufacturers, names like Goodyear, Firestone, and BFGoodrich probably come to mind. So it might surprise you to learn that the largest maker of tires on the planet is none other than the most famous toy company in the world: Lego.

To be sure, Lego's tires are not all-weather, nor can they go off-road. They also fit in the palm of your hand. But for 50 years, Lego has been churning out its little wheels, millions per year, topping out at an unbelievable 381 million in 2011, the company said.

50 years of Lego wheels (images)

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This tire empire got its start in 1962 with Lego set No. 400. And from there, Lego's gone all in.

Lego, of course, made cars before 1962. And until it began producing sets with wheels, it used to make pre-molded mini-cars. Kids were also known to fashion their own wheels out of standard Lego bricks. But it's hard to imagine those vehicles rolling all that smoothly across a carpeted floor.

That's probably one reason why set No. 400 quickly became Lego's best-seller. The company moved 820,400 units of the boxed set in 1967.

Along the way, the company has made all kinds of wheels, from its largest--a 10.7-centimeter behemoth that debuted in 2000 as part of set No. 8456, the "Power Puller"--to the smallest, a 14.4-millimeter wheel that fit a two-seater car that was part of sets No. 345 and 346 starting in 1969.