Younger readers might not believe it, but the ubiquitous LEGO Minifigure hasn't always ruled the world. Some of us can remember a time before Minifigures ever existed. And during those dark, distant days, there was another, shorter-lived dynasty, that of the Maxi figures.
Prior to this, LEGO produced a series of Homemaker sets from 1971 onwards featuring domestic scenes such as a children's room and a kitchen. Early Homemaker sets were, to all intents and purposes, LEGO-built sections of a modular doll's house, albeit with something important missing - the dolls. I don't know whether LEGO always intended to remedy that situation, or whether poor sales and/or feedback from customers indicated that a change in direction was needed - if there are any experts out there then I'd love to know more of the history - but in 1974 the Homemaker sets started to be populated by figures. While predominantly brick-built, these figures featured a selection of brand new parts (below) - torsos, hands, heads and hair - enabling a degree of realism not previously possible with LEGO.
Constituents of a Homemaker Figure (pics from Bricklink)
The realism extended beyond just the appearance - the design of the figures meant that it was possible to rotate the head and move the arms at the shoulders, elbows and wrists. There was also variety - as you can see from the box shot of Set 200 LEGO Family above and the pictures of my LEGO family below, LEGO produced interchangeable heads for the figures with a variety of expressions, facial features (e.g. freckles) and even spectacles. There were also different hair pieces, again interchangeable, and the torsos and arms were available in a variety of colours.
As far as I can make out, LEGO produced around 60 sets between 1974 and 1982 containing one or more of these Homemaker figures. The sets were predominantly domestic scenes, but also included a few vehicles and basic sets. One interesting twist to the formula can be seen in Set 565 Moon Landing (below) which replaced the Homemaker head with blocky brick-built space helmets.
I was surprised how many sets containing Homemaker figures I'd accumulated over the years, and spent a blissful hour or two digging out a few of the sets and building them earlier this week; in addition to the LEGO Family figures above, you can see a couple more examples of my Homemaker family below (click to enlarge).
|Set 212 Scooter|
|Set 265 Bathroom|
|Early minifigure, from Set 664 TV Crew|
It took only 3 years for the early minifigures to evolve into their modern form, and in 1978, the minifigure credited with being the first of the modern breed appeared in Set 600 Police Car (above). The rest, as they say, is history, but let's never forget the little people who arguably kickstarted the whole minifigure revolution....