The MiG company is quite likely the most famous Soviet aircraft design organization, having produced some of the world's most famous fighter planes. There are in 2001, in fact, more MiG-designed fighter aircraft in service around the world than any other type—about 20 percent of the world's total. Over the past 60 years, the MiG design bureau (the Russian counterpart to American aircraft companies) has worked on approximately 250 different aircraft projects, 120 of which actually went into production. In that time, the company's manufacturing plant has produced more than 15,000 aircraft. Unlike other Russian aviation corporations that produce a variety of different aircraft, MiG has, with a few exceptions, stuck to one single profile: jet fighters.

The MiG company was founded as an independent design department in December 1939 by Artem Mikoyan, a young aviation designer who had grown up in a remote Asian village. Mikoyan had worked as a mechanic in the 1920s before graduating from a military academy in 1937. He worked briefly in the late 1930s for Nikolai Polikarpov, a famous Soviet aviation designer. When Mikoyan began his independent work in 1939, he joined forces with Mikhail Gurevich, an accomplished aeronautical engineer who had recently visited the United States to negotiate a license to build a Soviet version of the Douglas DC-3. Mikoyan and Gurevich's first design was the I-200 high altitude interceptor that eventually bore the name MiG-1, standing for the first letters of each of their names and the "i" in the middle for the Russian word for "and." Although the MiG-1 was an excellent aircraft, the Soviet Air Force used it sparingly since high altitude interceptors were not in demand at a time when the Soviets were facing German strategic bombing attacks. Few MiG interceptors, in fact, saw action during World War II, and it was only in the post-war era that the organization, known by then as the Experimental Design Bureau No. 155 (OKB-155), grew rapidly in size and influence.

Using engine technology captured from the Germans after the war, Mikoyan and Gurevich produced the first Soviet jet fighter, the MiG-9, which flew for the first time on April 24, 1946. Later that same year, in August, Joseph Stalin ordered Mikoyan and Gurevich to have ten of these aircraft prepared for a fly-past in Moscow during a national parade. Fearing for their lives if the order was not fulfilled, engineers worked around the clock for two whole months to produce ten MiG-9s in time for the October demonstration. Ironically, the actual parade was cancelled due to poor weather. But the MiG-9 entered service with the Soviet Air Force soon after and was the predecessor of a number of every well known Soviet aircraft.

The MiG design bureau was very productive during the Cold War and produced some of the Soviet Union's most famous high-speed jet fighters. These included the MiG-15 (which shocked Western forces in the Korean War with its speed and agility), the MiG-17 (capable of supersonic speeds), the MiG-19 (the first mass-produced Soviet supersonic fighter), and the MiG-21 (known by the NATO codename "Fishbed"), which is quite possibly the most famous of all Soviet fighter planes. The design bureau produced more than 9,000 MiG-21s in as many as 32 versions for the Soviet Air Force. Several countries including China, Czechoslovakia, and India also produced their own domestic versions of the MiG-21.

The last major fighters under Mikoyan and Gurevich's leadership were designed in the 1960s. These included the MiG-23 ("Flogger"), the first operational variable geometry jet fighter in the Soviet arsenal, and the Mach 3-capable MiG-25 ("Foxbat") interceptor. Mikoyan died in 1970 and was succeeded by his deputy Rostislav Belyakov. Gurevich retired earlier in 1964.

With Belyakov at the helm, the MiG design bureau produced several new fighter aircraft for the Soviet Air Force. These included the MiG-29 ("Fulcrum") attack light interceptor and the all-weather MiG-31 ("Foxhound") fighter interceptor, both of which first flew in the 1970s. Besides fighter aircraft, the design bureau studied other airborne weapons such as anti-ship missiles, cruise missiles, an air-launched anti-satellite weapons system, and even a reusable spaceplane system known as Spiral. The latter was an air-launched small winged spacecraft designed to do battle in space. The program was eventually cancelled when the Soviet military found little use for it. After Spiral ended in the mid-1970s, MiG shifted its focus exclusively to fighter aircraft.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the design bureau, like many other former Soviet defence enterprises, has had to restructure operations to suit difficult economic times. In May 1995, the Russian government established the MAPO-MiG (Moscow Aircraft Production Association-MiG) by combining production plants with the MiG design bureau. By the late 1990s, with the Russian economy close to collapse, the company was beset by financial embezzlement scandals, fierce competition from the Sukhoi fighter company, and major layoffs. In December 1999, the Russian government renamed MAPO MiG as the new MiG Aircraft Building Corporation and promised further shakeups that could possibly include a merger with arch rival Sukhoi.

In order to survive in an extremely strained post-Communist economy, MAPO MiG turned to export sales of modernized versions of the MiG-29. Despite a distinct lack of government interest, it has continued developing advanced fighter concepts, including the mysterious 1.42 multifunctional fifth generation fighter, said to be capable of outperforming the American F-22 Raptor. The 1.42 (also known as the 1.44I) took off on its first flight in February 2000 and is competing with a similar Sukhoi design to satisfy requirements for a future generation of Russian fighter aircraft. Although for most of its existence, MiG predominantly focused on the development of fighter planes, in recent years it has been forced to make modest efforts to diversify into the civilian passenger plane market in order to survive.