Happy 40th Birthday, LEGO Minifigure!

Though we’ve been celebrating this event all year long, today is the actual 40th birthday of the LEGO minifigure! Happy birthday, little articulated guys and gals (and monsters and droids and…)!

I’ve had LEGO my whole life. My earliest memories of playing with toys include the free-form LEGO sets we had. Thanks to the below infographic, which shows the evolution of LEGO figures, including those that came before the modern day minifigure, I’ve been able to date my childhood collection to 1974 and 1975, since we had a ton of the early figures and a handful of the immobile ones.

The first LEGO building figure was launched in 1974. It was much larger than a modern minifigure, and you had to build the body yourself. It had a head and neck with well-articulated arms and hands, and you provided the rest. Build it standing straight up, have it sitting, build a dress on to it, or a pair of pants. Or make it 10 feet tall. There was also interchangeable hair and a variety of facial expressions, including a “granny” figure with grey hair and a bun, and she wore little glasses.

Just a year later in 1975, LEGO started making much smaller figures that had no faces but had solid bodies. Nothing was movable, though. But they did fit in smaller spaces! Such as inside vehicles you might build. So that was cool. I always liked the look of these figures, but they definitely didn’t have much personality.

Finally, in 1978, LEGO introduced the first modern style minifigure, and the LEGO-loving public never looked back. Now the faces had expressions, the limbs all moved, and you could put hats and other things on their heads. There were originally about 20 different minifigure characters, including a police officer, firefighter, astronaut, doctor, and knight, and it just expanded from there.

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My first modern minifigure came a little later than 1978 later for me. I have (yes, I still have it!) a construction set similar to one of the pictures in the slideshow, below. The set has a crane, a forklift, a couple of minifigures, and more. I remember receiving it around age 10, so that would have been in the early ’80s.

Showing the early LEGO building figures. Image: LEGO
LEGO building figures made good cowboys. Image: LEGO
This shows an example of the pre-minifigure minifigure. The stretcher is attached to the figures between their torsos and legs. Image: LEGO
Finally the modern-day minifigure! Hello, officer! Image: LEGO
This includes the construction set I had, with my first minifigures. Image: LEGO
Minifigures were the perfect scale for domestic settings. Image: LEGO
To space! Image: LEGO
The ever-present knights. Image: LEGO
The little letters are one of my all-time favorite LEGO pieces. Image: LEGO

To go along with this birthday (and yes, by all means, have cake), LEGO has shared some incredible imagery from the history of the minifigure. I couldn’t possible share all of the many gigs of files available, so I picked out some of the most interesting and representative imagery of the development of the minifigure over time. There are also some image that show the early evolution of the minifigure, from prototypes to the final result.

The evolution from building figure through modern minifigure. Image: LEGO
Some of the original LEGO minifigures. Image: LEGO
More original LEGO minifigures. Image: LEGO
Evolution of the astronauts. Image: LEGO
Evolution of the police officers. Image: LEGO
Evolution of the fire fighters. Image: LEGO
Evolution of the nurses/doctors. Image: LEGO

Also, here are some behind-the-scenes looks into a LEGO factory, along with the modern day molds used to make the minifigures.

Molds to make a minifigure. Image: LEGO
Little heads. Image: LEGO
Whee! Image: LEGO
Making torsos. Image: LEGO

Over the past 40 years, the minifigure collection has grown from the original ~20 figures to over 8,000 different figures sporting over 650 facial expressions. If you can dream it, chances are there is a minifigure that could personify it. Even if you’re thinking of a hot dog, banana, birthday cake, or chicken.

Here are a few facts:

  • As long as they aren’t wearing hair or anything on their head, a LEGO minifigure measures four bricks tall.
  • LEGO chose a neutral yellow color for the minifigures so that anyone who played with them could imagine themselves as part of the play. They can also re-imagine themselves, changing out hair, facial expressions, clothes, etc. Now you can put yourself in your LEGO playtime as male or female (or neither or both or gender queer), a ninja, an astronaut, Harry Potter, a singer, Batman, a droid, or anything else you can imagine.
  • Eight different molds are used to produce each minifigure and they are almost identical to the molds that were originally used, though the speed of production has increased considerably. This means you can combine or mix and match minifigure parts from any of the figures from the past 40 years.

LEGO fun will, of course, continue in 2019. In addition to the likelihood of many new sets, we all anticipate with great excitement the release of LEGO Movie 2!

Happy Birthday, LEGO minifig!

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This post was last modified on August 27, 2018 4:00 pm

Jenny Bristol

Jenny Bristol is Editor-in-Chief of GeekMom and an Editor at GeekDad. She is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, facilitating the education of her two wickedly smart kids, losing herself in history, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.

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