The LEGO® Group refers to all LEGO® toys, including LEGO® bricks, LEGO® Minifigures,™ tires, gears, weapons, hats, helmets, hair pieces, and capes as elements. The company took another leap forward with the introduction of the LEGO® Minifigure™ in the late 1970s.
A LEGO® Minifigure™ is a toy person or other being (plastic doll) with horizontally rotating head and vertically rotating arms and legs. It comes in four pieces (1) the head, (2) the torso, (3) the legs, and (4) a hair piece, a helmet, or hat.
Some figures also come with a fifth piece, a beard, and or a sixth piece, a cape. These pieces are interchangeable, so a customer can create his or her own unique figure if he or she so chooses.
As an example, one fan of David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who created a figure of the Tenth Doctor using elements from the Collectible Minifigures theme. Many of the Minifigure™ heads now have two expressions, one on the front and another on the back that will be hidden behind the hair, helmet, or hat, as seen with Good Cop / Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson) in The LEGO Movie (2014).
The feet and legs are compatible with the studs on LEGO® bricks and bases. Thus, they can stand on bases outside of, as well as in or on, LEGO® brick buildings. They can also sit in LEGO® chairs.
LEGO® Minifigure™ hands are compatible with other LEGO® elements. One can snap anything from a spear to shovel to a goblet in the hands of a LEGO® Minifigure™.
The precursor to the LEGO® Minifigure™ was the LEGO® family introduced in 1974. Set 200 included five family members: grandmother, father, mother, daughter, and son.
These figures had brick bodies, arms that rotated both vertically and horizontally (which is more realistic than the LEGO® Minifigure’s arms that only rotate vertically) with yellow ring-like hands, interchangeable yellow heads, and interchangeable hair pieces.
The problem with these figures is that they were too large to be compatible with the LEGO® City product line. Another preliminary step toward the introduction of the LEGO® minifugure came in 1975 with the introduction of a figure of the right scale that had a blank yellow head, a torso with stumps that suggested arms, and a single solid piece that represented a pair of legs.
Jens Nygård Knudson led the team that developed the LEGO® Minifigure™. They went through fifty-one stages of development over a period of three years.
In 1978, the company introduced the LEGO® Minifigure™ with Set 600, a policeman who came with a buildable LEGO® brick police patrol car. The LEGO Group received an American patent on the LEGO® Minifigure™ in 1979.