On August 25, 1978, the Lego minifigure was born. This was a hugely important transition for Lego. For many years they sold sets allowing builders to create cars or buildings, but something was missing — a human element. The minifig gave them that humanity, and very quickly it became an iconic symbol of the company second only to the brick itself.
The first minifigs had yellow skin and fixed, pleasant expressions. It was not until 1989 that this changed, with a pirates set debuting figures with eye patches, hook hands and peg legs. 1997 saw the minifig’s official entry into the digital realm, starring in the videogame Panic on Lego Island. It was not until 1998 that minifigs with realistic skin tones were released, in conjunction with a new line of sports figures. As of 2004, all licensed products featured minifigs with natural coloration.
Some quick facts: Over four billion minifigs have been manufactured, or nearly four figures are sold every second, for an average of 122 million per year. The very first minifig was a police officer, and he has appeared in 41 different versions in 104 sets. (From Wired.com)