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    

Gi Joe Lot Cobra Arah Vintage Gi Joe Lot Weapons Vehicles 1980's 164 FiguresHuge Lot Of G.i.joe Figurines Vehicles Jets Accessories 1980'sRare Gi Joe 1967 Panther Jet By Irwin In Original Box Nice!!1964 Gi Joe Action Soldier Machine Gun Emplacement Set By Hasbro Sears Box 5931Hasbro G.i. Joe Arah Vintage Cobra Elite Trooper Crimson Guard Moc Rare1984 Vintage Gi Joe...............storm Shadow 100% CompleteRare 1968 Gi Joe Soldier Sabotage 7516 Photo Box Opened Missing TntUltimate Soldier 21st Century Toys America's Finest 1/6 Fire Rescue HelicopterApc Tiger Fly Cobra Condor Z25 Tiger Fly Wolf Tactical Gi Joe Vehicle Lot IiiGi Joe Adventure Team Secret Mission To Spy Island Equipment Accessories 1973Gi Joe Cobra 1986 Terror Drome Base Battle Station Vehicle Lot Nr Complete ArahG.i. Joe- Huge Vintage Lot W/ Weapons- ArahHasbro G.i. Joe Arah Vintage Tomahawk In An Open Box Lift Ticket ReadVintage Gi Joe 1968 7625 Breeches Buoy Action Sailor Photo Box Set OpenedG.i. Joe 1964, 8 Marines Soldiers Troops Gadgets Clothes Lot Of StuffHasbro G.i. Joe Arah Vintage Assault Copter Dragonfly Xh-1 Open Box Wild Bill1967 Gi Joe Hasbro Jungle Fighter Uniform Near Mint Condition1971 Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team Secret Of The Mummy's Tomb Mib 1st ReleaseGi Joe Arah 1986 Snake Eyes W/timber V2 Moc Afa 80 80/85/90 36-back 1980s Huge Hasbro Gi Joe 250+ Weapons & Accessories Lot For 3.75" Action Figures1964 Hasbro G.i. Joe Action Marine #7700 Exl In Original Box Early ***10/64***Vintage 1980s ~ Gi Joe ~ Hovercraft Killer Whale Excellent Shape! Nice Box!Vintage 1965 Gi Joe Figure Soldier Of The World Japanese Figure !!! L@@k !!!Gi Joe Lot Of 55 Figures From 1982 Thru 1988 Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, DukeVintage 1964 12" Gi Joe Adventure Team W Dog Tag Action Figure Hasbro Gi Joe Talking Adventure Team Commander Hair Beard Original Box 196480s Gi Joe Figure Lot Black Gi Joe Aventurer With Life Like Hair And Kung Fu Grip Boxed Vintage 19741964 Painted Hair 12" Gi Joe Action Marine W Combat Gear & Wood Footlocker #2Gi Joe Arah Mobile Command Center 100% Complete, With Box, Steam Roller Driver Lot Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team 2 Figures Accessories Foot Locker Ha45Vintage 1974 Gi Joe Adventure Team Fate Of The Trouble Shooter W Box & Parts 1964 Gi Joe Sears Exclusive Action Pilot Space Capsule Flotation Collar In BoxVintage 1970's Hasbro G.i. Joe Accessories: Adventure Team HelicopterLot Of Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team Figure W/ Clothes & Accessories Ha49Hasbro G.i. Joe Arah Vintage Mutt And Junkyard Dog Handler Moc Tear Rare1964 Painted Hair 12" Gi Joe Action Soldier W Combat Gear & Wood Footlocker #4G.i. Joe- Huge Vintage Lot- ArahHasbro G.i. Joe Arah Vintage Falcon Attack Glider Open Box Tan Grunt Very RareVintage Actioman Royal Hussar1983 Vintage Gi Joe...............cobra Officer 100% CompleteGi Joe Cobra Gung-ho By Stronox CustomsLook Rare 2 Tm Boxed Gi Joe Action Sailor,no Reserve!!Hasbro Gi Joe Action Soldier Small Equipment Card Mess Kit 7509 Triple Tm 1964 1980s Gi Joe Parts Weapons Accessories Lot Vintage 1964 12" Blonde Gi Joe Action Figure, Painted Hair, Scarred Cheek1982 Hasbro Gi Joe Mickey Mouse Cobra Commander 1st Logo/filecard Afa 85 Nm+Gi Joe Check Point Battle Station 1985 Afa Q80 Mib (triple Win Offer) HasbroLot Vintage 1960's Hasbro G.i. Joe Orange Scuba Diver Outfit Adventure Team - At1970s Gi Joe Adventure Team 44" Training Tower Set Sears Version W Cave In BoxGi Joe Cobra Vintage Weapons And Misc Parts Pieces Lot Some Rare Items Nice :)Gi Lot 45 Action Figures - Nice Collection Strait Arm Snake Eyes Scarlett DestroGi Joe Poc Retaliation 50th Anniversary LotVintage Hasbro Gi Joe 1960s German Action Figure Soldier In Uniform Ha12Vintage Gi Joe Flying Space Adventure Rare Bubble Space Helmet And Suit1964 Gi Joe 20" Jeep & 15" Trailer W Cannon & Spotlight Excellent In BoxLot Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe 7000 Jeep Action Figure W/ Clothes & Accessories Ha1171984 Vintage Gi Joe...............firefly 100% CompleteG.i. Joe Hasbro 1/6 Scale Police Highway Patrol Motorcycle Vehicle Lot 2Elite Force Aviator F-15c Eagle 1/6 Scale Cockpit With Pilot "viper"