Building instructions included for main model.

The earliest LEGO sets did not have instruction manuals. On the boxes of these early sets were examples of items that could be built, but there wasn’t a “main” model as these sets just contained a bunch of building blocks.

In 1955, LEGO sets were made with a specific “main” model in mind and on the packaging had a set of building steps to make the model. Starting in 1964, a paper manual of instructions was included. Without computers, the early instructions were all hand-drawn and continued until the late 90s.

The trend with these instructions has been to simplify the building process. Newer instructions have a step part list shown, showing all the required parts for each build step, and they tend to use fewer pieces per step, sometimes using a whole step just to show the model being flipped or rotated. They also highlight where the new parts are to be placed. The old instructions didn’t show you all the pieces for that step and didn’t highlight where the new parts needed to be placed, you just had to look at the image on the instructions and compare it to your actual build and pieces you had left in a big pile (pieces didn’t come in presorted in numbered bags early on either). Technic was the exception and developed more detailed instructions than the rest of the LEGO System.

Instructions manuals aren’t all the same. Some parts of the world got different instruction books (see 854: Go-Kart). And these instructions weren’t always perfect. Occasionally, with the manuals was an errata/correction sheet. Some instructions just add in a piece, even after all the box art and photos were made (see 6982: Explorien Starship – black 2 x 2 plate on page 41). Multiple versions of instructions for various sets exist, mainly due to a set revision during production.

Instructions with Multiple Versions

  • 6851: Tri-Wheeled Trax
    (V1 has a White 2 x 6 Plate and Black 2 x 3 Plate in the middle. V2 uses only 2 x 6 Plates)
  • 6927: All Terrain Vehicle
    (V1 Step 1 shows a Gray Turntable 2 x 2 Plate with Light Gray Top, V2 in Step 1 shows a Yellow Turntable 2 x 2 Plate with Light Gray Top)

While it was common for instructions to include photos of an alternate build (see 6987: Message Intercept Base), rarely, a set’s building instructions also included steps for the alternate models (see 6040: Blacksmith Shop).

Regardless if you like the more straight forward, numbered bagged, building instructions of today or the less detailed you’ll figure it out eventually steps of the past instructions, the fun remains. Now, with your help, building instructions are included for more than just the main model. Let us know if you’ve got something awesome to add about instructions!