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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Gi Joe 50+ Figure & Vehicle Lot Cobra Viper Beachhead Tunnel Rat PhantomG.i.joe Argentina Plastirama Red Cobra Satan Moc Storm Shadow Orginal Hasbro G. I. Joe Action Sailor Figure 1964 In Box (with Accessories) Uss Flagg Gi Joe Aircraft Carrier 100% Complete8 Gi Joe Python Patrol Lot Trooper Crimson Guard Tele Viper Copperhead + OfficerVintage G.i. Joe Uss Flagg Aircraft Carrier (near Complete) + Huge Lot Of ExtrasGi Joe 1960's Desert Patrol Attack Jeep W/ Gi Joe Original With Box Nice VintageG.i.joe Argentina Plastirama Cobra Black Ninja Ku Moc1984 Gi Joe Cobra Saboteur Firefly Moc Gorgeous High Grade L@@kVintage 1980's Gijoe 142 Figure LotVintage Gi Joe Action Pilot Air Adventure Team Muscle Body 1976 Hasbro On CardGi Joe 25th Dvd Battles Set Lot Mass Device Serpentor Quick Kick Fss Roc Poc1986 Hasbro G.i. Joe / Series 5 / Night Raven / Mib / Cobra Nocturne / Us ToyVintage Action Pilot 1964 1960s Gi Joe Hasbro Figure Early Issue Toy Part Lot Vtg Nos 1988 Gi Joe Night Force 2-pack Outback + Crazylegs Moc No Flag Points NrVtg Nos 1989 Gi Joe Night Force 2-pack Charbroil +repeater Figure Lot Moc SealedGi Joe 50th Anniversary Ice Viper Lot - LooseG.i. Joe- Gold Steel Brigade Mail-in- 1992Gi Joe Collector's Club Big Boa --- Loose With File CardHasbro Vintage G.i Joe 1964 Patent Pending Bolk Lot#Gi Joe 1987 Starduster Version C 100% Complete W/file Card!Gi Joe Mexican Auriken Comandos Heroicos Cobra Trooper Lot Of 5 Figures (c)Vintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Vehicle, Team Headquarters And Trouble ShooterRare Collector's Elite Force Aviator F-15c Eagle Cockpit Bbi Dragon 1:6 Mint1987 Gijoe Cobra Jet Pack Trooper ( Starduster ) W/ Rare Helmet, Jet Pack & GunGi Joe Cobra 25th/50th Anniversary Figures Lot - LooseG.i. Joe Python Patrol Water Moccasin Joecon 2011 Action Figure Vehicle7 1989 Gi Joe Sky Patrol Airborne Airwave Altitude Dropzone Skydive Static LineGreat Lot Of Vintage 3 3/4" Gi Joe Figures 1980's Cobra 8 Figures & 8 Weapons 1964 Gi Joe Offical Combat Jeep Set In Box HasbroVintage Gi Joe Hasbro Adventure Team Intruders Caveman Commander 1976 Sweet!Leather Gun Belt, And Hat Fits Dragon, Gi Joe ,sideshow Cowboy 1/6 ScaleVintage Gi Joe Collection Gi Joe Nurse Equipment 1964 1960's 2 Footlocker BoxGi Joe Cobra Retaliation Cobra Crimson Guard Lot - Missing Some AccessoriesGi Joe Collector's Club Frostbite --- Loose But 100% Complete With Card Back21st Century Toys 1/18 Figure And Accessory Lot 17 FiguresSideshow 1/6 Scale (12in) Figure - Vlad Dracula - "the Impaler"Vintage Slythor Manimals Gi Joe Star Brigade 1993 Hasbro - Moc Afa 70 90 SubsVtg Hasbro G.i. Gi Joe 3 3/4 In Toy Solder Lot 184 Action Figs + Accessories Mixed Lot Of 20 (3 3/4" Size) Vintage Gi Joe Action Figures & Parts For 3 MoreCustom 1/6 Scale Resident Evil W/clothes & Head & Body For 12" Action FigureGi Joe Collector's Club Zombie Initiative Clean Sweep - Loose With File Card1964 1965 Gi Joe Black Action Soldier Hasbro Vintage Rare FindGi Joe Club Exclusive 3.75" Big Boa Action Figure Snake Eyes Zartan Storm ShadowG.i. Joe Storm Shadow 1984Gi Joe Cobra 25th/30th/retaliation Lot - Gijoe Plastirama Lot (ninja Ku, Satan, Others)Vintage Gi Joe - Heads (10) - Both Flocked/painted - For Repair/kitbashGi Joe Cobra 1984 Rattler Jet 98% Complete Arah Vehicle Landing Gear Intact!G.i. Joe The Oktober Guard Operation Bear Trap 2012 Convention Souvenir Figures1988 Hasbro G.i. Joe / Series 7 / Tiger Rat Afa 80 Q-nm / Tiger ForceOriginal Hasbro G. I. Joe Action Figure 1964 In Box With Accessories. Rare Gi Joe - African American Black Soldier Figure - 1964 Original Not ReplicaG.i. Joe Oktober Guard Soviet Convoy Truck Joecon 2012 Action Figure VehicleGi Joe 50th Anniversary Sdcc Flint -- LooseSideshow Bayonets And Barbed Wire Aef American Infantryman World War IGi Joe Cobra Rise Of Cobra Benchpress With Build N Brawl Sgt SlaughterVintage Gi Joe Arah Full Uncut File Card Back LotGi Joe Cobra 30th Anniversary Lifeline - LooseGi Joe Hasbro Uk European Tiger Force Tunnel Rat 99% Complete