Evolution of the LEGO Minifigure: 90 years of LEGO play

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the LEGO Group – so here is a look back at the minifigure over the decades, from the days of yellow smiley faces to the unique moulding that features on many of the modern versions of these delightful LEGO characters. 

In 1978 the minifigure was born. It wasn’t the first time the LEGO Group had produced figures to try and match its bricks, but previous iterations had been blocky and with little pose-ability. The minifigure came in to change that and allow children to engage in role-play with a whole cast of relatable characters. 

Do you know who the first minifigure character was? Or when real skin tones were added to minifigures? Blocks, the LEGO magazine for fans, is going on a blast through the past looking at the history of the LEGO minifigure.

A big question is – why does the minifigure exist? It was actually the brainchild of LEGO designer Jens Nygaard Knudsen, who realised that children needed a character to engage with in the LEGO System for meaningful role-play. After over 50 attempts at designing the perfect figure, finally the minifigure that fans know and love was created. The Police Officer is the first minifigure to be produced, featuring in 600 Police Car. They are incredibly simple by today’s standards, only featuring dots for eyes and a smiley face, with some buttons on the uniform.

Blocks magazine celebrates 90 years of LEGO in a special edition magazineget yours now to commemorate the occasion. To get Blocks, the LEGO magazine for fans, every month – at a discount and earlier than the shops – order a 12-month or 24-month subscription. Direct debit payment options are available too; to find out more get in touch via subs@silverbackpublishing.rocks.

Being a Police Officer also had another advantage – the minifigure could wear a hat. There were only hats and pigtails available as head pieces for minifigures and it wasn’t until the following year that a man’s hair piece was made. An updated version is still used today on characters such as Luke Skywalker (his Return of the Jedi appearance) or young Tim Murphy from Jurassic Park. 

The next biggest changes came in 1989 and 1990. Minifigures went sailing on the high seas and Captain Redbeard wouldn’t be a proper pirate without a peg leg and mean looking hook. This was the first time minifigures had diverged from the classic design, though certainly not the last. Find out in Blocks Issue 90 who had the idea to give Redbeard so many pirate attributes! The LEGO NINJAGO range introduced the evil Garmadon who has four arms to carry weapons or lots of shopping bags. In 1990 things got spooky as the ghost entered the Castle theme – it marks the first time that any LEGO element could glow-in-the-dark. 

At the turn of the century, as the LEGO Group faced bankruptcy, the first ever licensed property launched. Star Wars would go onto become one of the longest-running themes ever. The accompanying licensed minifigures needed to look like their on-screen counterparts, ushering in a plethora of new pieces and some aliens, like Watto, needed unique moulds. 

It was because of Star Wars that the shorter legs for minifigures were introduced along with realistic skin tones. Yoda had to be smaller than other characters and the shorter leg piece then went on to be used for younger LEGO characters. Then the Lando Calrissian minifigure needed a more authentic skin tone to accurately portray his character, and from 2004 onwards, diverse skin tones became the norm for licensed minifigures. 

The popularity of the minifigure was undeniable by 2010, so the Collectible Minifigures theme launched and continues to allow fans to collect characters without having to buy sets. The first series contained a wacky collection of characters, from a Zombie to a Super Wrestler. 

Modern minifigures feature fancy upgrades such as dual-moulded parts, allowing heads, legs or torsos to be cast in two colours of plastic instead of one.

There are now more than 8,000 different minifigures and it’s possible to combine their parts in more than 85 billion combinations! 

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