September 30, 2023

LEGO® Fact: Minifigure Heads

Despite looking pretty much the same as it originally did in 1978, the LEGO® Minifigure has evolved considerably over 45 years. Perhaps the oddest change in its history involved the stud on top of the minifig head. Since 1978, there have been three different versions of this attachment point. But why change the stud? Well, here’s a LEGO® Fact: Minifigure heads once incorporated an air passage!

LEGO Fact: Minifigure heads used to have solid studs
An original style, well-loved Minifigure head from my collection.

The original Minifigure head released in 1978 featured a solid stud, much like what you see on top of a brick or plate. It remained that way until around 1992. At that point, the stud on top underwent a drastic change. It became hollow with an interior, three arm support lattice. The move created an air passage to prevent choking. Interestingly enough, it was around that same time (1991) that pen companies like BIC incorporated holes into pen caps for the same reason. If you accidentally inhale the plastic parts, they will not completely obstruct your airway. Incidentally, holes in pen caps also equalize pressure in the pen cap, but that’s another story.

For a while, Minifigure heads included an airway to prevent choking.

LEGO Fact: Minifigure heads used to have airways built in.
The 1990s update to the Minifigure head.

Around 2010, plans arose to eliminate the air passages. The details surrounding why are a bit foggy. However, it seems unlikely that the tiny holes in the Minifigure’s head can provide enough air circulation to actually breath. Additionally, a pen cap is a long, tapered object. It will naturally orient in the windpipe so air flows through it. Being round, a Minifigure head will not behave the same way. It is just as likely to lodge sideways as it is vertically. The predominant theory is that the LEGO® Group deemed the airflow negligible and scrapped the feature.

The modern Minifigure head.

Interestingly enough, the Minifigure head did not revert to its older form. The LEGO® Group closed the stud off, but left it hollow similar to the stud on a jumper plate. There are two documented reasons for this. Firstly, the LEGO® System evolved after 1992 with some build techniques requiring the insertion of pins into the hollow stud of a Minifigure head. For backwards compatibility, the LEGO® Group had to preserve that feature. Secondly, the Minifigure head was a non-visibly branded element in the LEGO® catalogue. With the rise of clone brands, there had to be a way to tell the real deal from the fake. Consequently, the inner surface of the stud was stamped with the LEGO® brand name.

Modern Minifigure head studs are sealed but hollow to allow insertion of pins.

Without the jumper plate-like stud on the modern Minifigure, the top knot on my favorite minifig of 2023 (so far) would not be possible

Of course the change did not take place all at once. Minifigures with open studs continued to appear in LEGO® sets and the collectible Minifigures series until 2013. This had to do with the specific molds used at different factories around the world and where a given Minifigure was produced. Also keep in mind that the LEGO® Group produces sets months, if not years, before release, so a decision to change an element often takes time to roll out fully.

Three generations of Minifigure heads.

And there you have it, a LEGO® fact about Minifigure heads. Did you know this already? Do you have any burning LEGO® questions you would like answered? Let me know in the comments below or reach out on social media.

Until next time,


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