In 1963, Hasbro, a toy company from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was on a mission. A group of its designers were borrowing guns and rifles from the National Guard and driving around with their trunks full of military weapons. They even had the gumption to call generals and request top-secret material.

What, exactly, were they up to? They wanted to make a product that would be similar to Mattel's Barbie, except one that would be just as popular with boys. Barbie, the 1/6-scale fashion doll for girls, was launched in 1959. The original dolls were sold wearing only a swimsuit and high heels, and wardrobe sets and accessories could be purchased separately. Because girls would get together to dress and play with their Barbie—and because this play time would inspire more purchases—sales were through the roof by 1963.

Of course, a product for boys could not be called a "doll." No, when Hasbro debuted its first G.I. Joe, a 12-inch-tall fully poseable figurine not entirely unlike a Barbie, in 1964, it was dubbed an "action figure."

The G.I. Joe action figure—whose name came from the 1945 film, "The Story of G.I. Joe," and the World War II slang for the typical serviceman "Government Issue Joe"—was presented as a rugged, powerful fighting man, with a deliberately generic face, scarred to prove his indifference to pain. Accessory packs for all branches of the U.S. Armed Services were available for purchase, and its toy weaponry was impressively authentic in detail. G.I. Joe could be a combat-ready soldier carrying a bayonet, an undersea frogman sent to explode a ship, or a Marine landing on Iwo Jima.

These toys were a hit with Baby Boomer children, partially due to their emotional connection to their family members who had served as soldiers, pilots, and sailors in World War II. The boys could imagine themselves going on the missions fought by their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers—in that way, G.I. Joe helped the generations bond.

In addition, 1964 was a timely year to introduce new military toys: The United States was stockpiling weapons for the Cold War and growing more entangled in the conflict in Vietnam. Thanks to the growing pro-military fervor, fake guns and small plastic soldiers were hugely popular at the time. Hasbro’s new toy struck a chord.

One of the company's most clever promotional moves was to encourage boys to join its G.I. Joe Club, which had kids forming "Backyard Patrol" groups that required authentic access...

By 1968, however, as the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War peaked and the conflict became increasingly unpopular at home, G.I. Joe toys started to fall out of favor. In 1969, Hasbro declared that G.I. Joe had retired from the military and would now be an "Adventurer," with some weapons but many more accessories meant for exploring deserts, jungles, and even the ocean floor.

The Adventurer G.I. Joe was a lot like Indiana Jones, rescuing mummies and gilded artifacts, and wrestling with wild beasts like bears, gorillas, and lions. As a part of a new "Adventure Team," this post-combat G.I. Joe, with his fuzzy "life-like" hair and beard, was on a mission to prevent world-wide disaster. The new look, direction, and "AT" logo made G.I. Joe a sensation all over again. In 1974, the action figures got "Kung Fu" grip hands, so the Joes could more easily hold weapons and adventuring equipment.

As the price of plastic rose, G.I. Joe got a new figure in 1976—a smooth, lightweight "muscle body," wearing blue swim trunks. This money-saving change didn't go over well with the public, which was losing interest in G.I. Joe, despite the company's attempts to remake him as the Atomic Man Mike Power, Bulletman, and one of the Intruders.

The year 1977 marked the end of the 12-inch G.I. Joe. Instead, Hasbro offered an 8-inch Super G.I. Joe, with the same face, grip, and muscular body of its predecessor. It was Hasbro’s attempt to enter the market established by Mego, which made wildly successful 8-inch figures of DC and Marvel comic-book superheroes. However, the venture failed to take hold.

It wasn't until 1982 that Hasbro launched another G.I. Joe line, this time with 3 ¾-inch posable figures similar to Kenner's Star Wars figurines, which were selling like hotcakes.

The new G.I. Joe was rebranded as "A Real American Hero." Instead of being an anonymous fighting man, each pocket-sized figure had its own identity and exciting code name, like Snake Eyes, Stalker, Short Fuse, Breaker, Zap, Flash, Scarlett (a woman), Rock 'n Roll, and Grunt. The '80s G.I. Joe team also had a new enemy army, the Cobra Command led by Cobra and Cobra Officer.

For 13 years, this new incarnation of G.I. Joe flourished on the market, spawning companion toy military vehicles and aircraft, as well as new heroes and enemies. These G.I. Joes became the heroes of a popular children's TV cartoon, a comic-book series, and several video games.

In 1995, Hasbro hoped to revive declining interest in G.I. Joe with larger 5-inch figurines called Sgt. Savage and His Screaming Eagles, who were also featured in a new animated TV show. When that failed, the company tried and stumbled again with G.I. Joe Extreme, modeled after popular superhero action-figure lines.

The 12-inch G.I. Joe action figures were produced again in limited numbers in the 1990s, usually in special deals with Target. In 1992, Hasbro began releasing limited-edition 12-inch versions popular '80s G.I. Joe characters. In 1994, it reintroduced the generic 12-inch G.I. Joe, and late in 1995, the "Classic Collection" came out with a figure similar to the 1976 "muscle body."

A new reproduction line was started in 1996 by original G.I. Joe designer Don Levine and John Michlig, in collaboration with Chronicle Books. These 12-inch figurines were sold under the Masterpiece brand, but were too expensive to be purchased as mere playthings—these were instant collectibles. In 2004, classic 1964 figurines were released again.

The vintage 12-inch G.I. Joes are the most sought-after for collectors. For example, a rare G.I. Nurse from 1967, the earliest female G.I. Joe ever made, recently sold at an auction for more than $6,000.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Beachhead

The Beachhead

Mark Wright’s G.I. Joe site, The Beachhead, has everything a fan of the original action figure could want. Click … [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Massive Gi Joe Vintage Lot! 1980's Figures, Vehicles, And Sets!Vintage Original Gi-joe Cobra Near Complete 1989 Night Force Boomer SkystrikerGi Joe Estrea Brazil Forca Fera Full Set Rare!!! Excellent Condition CompleteGi Joe Vintage 3 3/4" Killer Whale Hovercraft 100% Complete Near Mint In BoxGi Joe Mail Away Starduster Rare With Rare Orig Box New Sealed Htf 80sHuge Gi Joe Lot 100+ Figures 1980's-2000's With Vintage Parts & Accessoriess1983 Vintage Original Gi-joe Cobra 100% Complete Skystriker [xp-14f] Combat JetIn Stock 1/6 Scale Pl2016-m33 Phicen Super Flexible Seamless Male Body Newest 1984 Vintage Original Gi-joe Cobra 100% Complete Rattler Ground Attack Jet #a1291985 Gi Joe Crimson Guard Commanders Twins Afa 85 Nm+ (c80 B85 F85) Pink ScarVintage Gijoe Cobra 1990 Chrome Sky Raven Night Sky Patrol 99.9% Complete #a1191983 Gijoe Cobra Air Glider Driver ( Viper Pilot ) 100% Comp. W/ Filecard * NrmtLot Of 116 Vintage 1980s Gi Joe & Cobra Action Figures With Accessories Hasbro1/6 12" Gi Joe Wwii Military Police Jeep Vehicle Sotw Vehicle Loose1985 Gi Joe Wet-suit Moc2001 Dragon Wwii Kurt German Mariupol 1941 Lah Division 1/6 12" Action Figure1985 Gi Joe Low-light Moc1964 Vintage Talking Gi Joe Action Figure With Footlocker Accessories Lot A-teamGi Joe 25th Anniversary Action Figure Lot Collection Moc Comic Packs & Clam CaseLot Of 33 Vintage 1980s Gi Joe & Cobra Action Figures With Accessories HasbroHuge Lot Of Gi Joe Military & Other Weapons, Parts And Accessories Pl2016-m33 Phicen 1/6 Scale Super Flexible Male Seamless Body In Stock(no Head1983 Gijoe Cobra Ranger ( Stalker ) Factory Sealed * Redback Filecard Mail AwayVintage Hasbro Gi Joe Lot, Figures, Weapons, And Accessories BrazilGi Joe 1967 Us Marine 1970 Adventure Team Figures Clothes Footlocker Accessories1/6 Scale Phicen Female Seamless Medium Bust Pale Body Plmb2016-s16a In StockGi Joe Adventure Team Lot Action Figures Accessories Rifles Vintage 1960s-70sGi Joe Uss Flagg Air Craft Carrier 1985 Speaker Microphone Complete Original1982 Mail Away Gi Joe Cobra Commander Straight Arm In Sealed Bag // MintHasbro 1976 Adventure Team Gi Joe Capture Copter Helicopter Gijoe Lot G.i. Joe 1980s 90s Vintage Lot Of Figues And Weapons/accessories Gi Joes Corba1:6 Phicen Flexible Female Seamless Body Stainless Skeleton Big Bust Figure ToysGijoe Cobra 100% Complete 1993 Ghost Striker X-16 Fighter Jet Vehicle #a1231984 Gijoe Night Attack Cobra Stinger Driver 100% Comp W/ Filecard & Blue PrintsGi Joe Adventure Team Magnum Power Set #7346, Vintage C-8+ Complete Rare Set82 83 Vintage Gijoe Straight Arm Snake Eyes Grunt Zap Cobra Flash Steeler Lot12" Gi Joe Mercury Astronaut And Mercury Friendship 7 Space CapsuleVintage Lot 1960’s Hasbro 12” G.i. Joe Original Collection Figures & Accessories1985 Gijoe Mine Detector Listen N Fun ( Tripwire ) 100% W/ Rare Filecard * Nrmt! Ultimate Soldier Xd 1:18 Scale German Luftwaffe Stuka Dive Bomber Airplane Box2000 Dragon Wwii Private Scott Normandy 4th Infantry Division 1/6 12" Us FigureGi Joe Action Figures, Lot Of (34) 1982 & Up Most With File Cards.Gi Joe Mail Away Rare* Starduster Mint Complete 80sLot Of 1980s Gi Joe Action Figures, Killer Whale Hovercraft, Trading CardsGi Joe Adventure Team Jettison To Safety 12" Vintage Action Figure Rare W/ AccVintage Gijoe Cobra 100% Complete 1986 Night Raven S³p Blackbird Plane Jet #a121Gi Joe Rapid Fire Motorcycle Ram (1982) Vintage. New! Sealed!Gi Joe Cobra/ Destro Troop Builder Lot Of 30 Figures Eels, Storm Shadow, FireflyGi Joe 1960's Lot Of Accessories Guns Weapons Clothing Booklets And Foot LockerVintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Figure Footlocker Accessories Lot1982 Gi Joe Zap Straight Arm W/ File / Super Clean & Tight // 100% Comp // Nm+1987 Gijoe Slaughter's Renegades 3 Pack Figures 100% Red Dog Mercer Taurus #a1401;18 Sbd-3 DauntlessVtg Hasbro Gi Joe Black Talking Adventurer Commander Needs ArmsLot Vintage Gi Joe Uniforms Clothing Accessories Parts FootlockerVtg Lot Hasbro Gi Joe Shore Patrol, Mike Powers, Foreign Head, Weapons, PartsVintage Gi-joe Cobra 1989 Tiger Force Rat Rattler 99% Near Complete Jet #a130Vintage Gijoe Cobra 99.9% Complete 1989 Cobra Condor Z25 Jet Plane Vehicle #a1151983 Gijoe Cobra Commando ( Snake Eyes ) 100% Complete W/ Filecard ! Nr. Mint !Gi Joe 1988 Steel Brigade V1c Complete