Legos can be considered vintage and modern because they are among those great toys that stay popular generation after generation. Possibly the most popular aspect of LEGO sets are the minifigures. LEGO reports that over 4 Billion Minifigures have been sold to date. These popular LEGO figures have changed quite a bit over the years. For instance, have you ever wondered why LEGO people are called minifigures? It's because the first Lego figures were much larger. Therefore all other LEGO people are mini-figures.
The LEGO Group is a Danish company that has been around since the 1930's. The name LEGO is shortened from the Danish word LEg GOdt which in Danish means "Play Well" and in Latin means "I Put Together".
The first Lego toys were wood but the familiar plastic bricks began in the late 1940's as LEGO Automatic Binding Bricks. LEGO Bricks continued to grow in number and popularity on to the 1970's before LEGO People were introduced.
They had yellow skin tone so as not to imply any race or ethnicity. Released in 1974, they were called LEGO Family Figures and I was lucky enough to have some of these.
I didn't get many because by 1976 LEGO began making minifigures instead. My first minifigs were in my LEGO Rescue Set #777.
These minifigs were also yellow but had no faces and no real arms or legs like current minifigures. Here's a closer look at mine:
I added color pieces as belts so they weren't so dull. With these 1970's Lego figures the only way to tell them apart was to add color. LEGO made bodies and hats in several different colors.
luckily, we only had to play with faceless lego people for a couple of years until LEGO created the basic body type of today's Mini Figure. These early modern style yellow minifigs still weren't very fancy, but at least now they had arms, legs, eyes and a mouth.
When they put hair on these early minifigs, it looked a lot like the hair on the LEGO Family Figures:
Definitely 70's hair!
The 1970's minifigures all had happy expressions on their faces. in the 1980's LEGO began making more interesting minifigs to go along with their new sets like the castle sets and pirate sets. Some of the pirates were actually the first LEGO figures to depict frowns or evil looks. LEGO began painting the clothing details on as well and created new hats, helmets, hairstyles and anything else needed to complete the characters. They also began using other colors on the face for things like beards, mostaches, eyebrows and teeth.
All LEGO minifigs were yellow skinned until with the LEGO NBA Basketball minifigs were made in 2003. LEGO wanted the NBA minifigs to have more authentic skin colors so they could look like actual NBA players.
LEGO then started making their other licensed character lines like Star Wars with normal skin tones in addition to the previous yellow skin. In the next couple years, they converted almost all of their minifigures to human skin tones. Instead of keeping the NBA style authentic facial features like the "realistic" eyes, LEGO went back to using their signature faces on the skin tone figs. They began with the simplistic eyes and mouth, and just like they did with the yellow figs, progressed to more detailed faces.
The more modern minifigs (both skin toned and yellow) now have white glints in the eyes as seen in the last two above.
The newest changes began in 2009 with better facial detail. LEGO went back to the NBA style face paint, but were able to make the art less comical. More detailed hair pieces have also been created. The new faces and hair can be seen on this Count Dooku head:
If you don't know, Count Dooku is from the Star Wars series which leads me to current times. The most collected minifigures come from the extremely popular Lego Themes. Some were created by LEGO, like the LEGO castle and LEGO City themes. Others are licensed characters like the most popular LEGO theme for years - LEGO Star Wars.
The hottest theme at the writing of this article is Harry Potter because LEGO just released six new Harry Potter building sets that include more than two dozen redesigned minifigures! Here are some of the previous ones:
Now that we have arrived in modern day, I guess that concludes this documentation of the history of the LEGO Minifigure. I'm sure LEGO won't stop here. If you'd like to read more about LEGO history, visit my LEGO Group Timeline page.
It will be exciting to see what they do next.