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    

Gi Joe 1990 Sky Patrol Sky Raven 100% Complete W Bp & Original Box Very NiceGi Joe 1992 Mail Away Steel Brigade Rare Ver. 2 Gold Head Comp. W Patch & File Gi Joe 1993 Mail Away Create A Cobra Sealed W Stickers File Card Fc & Order FormAntique Dealers Job Lot Vintage Palitoy Atomic Man + Action Man Capture Copter1969 Gi Joe Adventures Of Adventurer Box HasbroVintage 1960s Palitoy Action Man Painted Hard Head Rivet Uniform Collection LotAntique Dealers Job Lot Vintage Palitoy Action Man Toy Accessories Maps Gas MaskGi Joe 1992 Rare Recalled Roadblock W Disc Launcher Complete W File Card Fc1964 Gi Joe With Box/manuals/accesoriesGi Joe 1993 Rare Mail Away Carry Case W 1984 Hooded Cobra Commander Sealed W BoxArt Figures Heavy Armored Special 1/6 Scale Cop (af-015)Gi Joe 1990 General Mobile Strike Hq W Locust & Major Storm 100% Fc Bp Orig. BoxIgnite 1/6 Scale Roman Tribune Action Figure Armor LotHuge Gi Joe Cobra Lot 17 Data Viper Jinx Budo Tons Customs Poc Hawk 30th RocG.i.joe Destro Redback Mail Away Sealed RedGi Joe 1989 Space Shuttle Crusader W Payload 100% Complete W Fc & BpVintage Hasbro Gi Joe Figure Collection Lot Zartan Snake Eyes 1983-1990 Gi Joe Cobra Viper Glider 1983Vintage Over 100 Ithms Job Lot Action Man Soldier Sailor Equipment Bionic Gi Joe €Payload Pilot Astronaut Figure 1987 Gi Joe Defiant Space Shuttle Nasa CobraVintage Original 1964 - 1965 Gi Joe Action Figure Soldier Hasbro Misc AccessLot Of 12 Gi Joe Vehicles With Boxes And Fort America Box. Some Sealed NrVintage Gi Joe AdventurerGi Joe 1992 Eco Warriors Toxo Lab Complete W Blueprints BpLot Of 10 Gi Joe Figures! Outback, Quick Kick, Jungle Duke! 25th, 30th, Poc, RocGi Joe €Vintage Gijoe 1964 T.m. Stamped Boxed Action Soldier With Paperwork!!Gi Joe Sgt Slaughter Ljn Mail Offer Wwf Wwe Rare Hasbro Mail Offer Vintage ArahVintage 1960s Palitoy Talking Action Man Commander Painted Hard Head Rivet 1stIgnite Viking 1/6 Scale Action Figure Armor Weapon & Accessory LotVintage 12" Gi Joe 1960's Hasbro Air Security Field Phone Case W Strap Near MintVintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Revenge Of The Spy Shark Set W/ FigureHasbro Gi Joe Desert Patrol Attack Jeep 12" Action Military Adventure FiguresVintage Hasbro 1970 Talking Gi Joe Adventure Team Commander W/box1970 Gi Joe Adventure Team Secret Of The Mummy's Tomb Box Hasbro Canada Rare!Gi Joe 1993 Toys R Us Exc. Dino Hunters W Ambush & Low Light 100% Comp W Fc & BpVintage 1969 Adventures Of Gijoe Mouth Of Doom Accessories!!Huge Gi Joe Lot Action Figure Weapons & Accessories Lot 88 Pieces 42 Figures ++1969 Gi Joe Adventures Of Mouth Of Doom Accessories HasbroGi Joe 1992 Mail Away Cobra Ninja Viper W Light Grey Swords Complete W File Card1966 Vintage Gi Joe: Original Boxed Sea Sled - Never UsedHasbro G.i. Joe Vintage Japanese Cobra Hiss Mib Rare Japan Release C-? UnusedAntique Dealers Job Lot Vintage Palitoy Action Man Toy Uniforms / Clothing EtcGi Joe 1986 Dr. Mindbender Moc Rare Vintage Hasbro Original Factory Sealed Gi Joe 1990-1992 Mail Away Steel Brigade Version E W Gold Head Rifle Complete1986 Gi Joe "jinx" Moc / Rare / Mint / Nib / Afa 85Gi Joe Lot 25th Poc Roc 50th Lot Rare BenchpressCustom 1/6th 2x Gunbelt Set Fits Dragon,gi Joe Sideshow 12 Inch Action Figures Gi Joe Renegades - Law & Order - G.i. Joe Poc 30thVintage G.i. Joe Tomahawk Helicopter W/ Box L@@k!Large Lot Of Vintage 3.75 Inch Gi Joe Action Figures Accessories Guns+misc. Gi Joe 1989 Slaughter's Marauders Lynx 100% Complete W Blueprints Bp1964 Vintage G.i. Joe Action Soldier 11 1/2 "Irwin 1964 12in. Gi Joe JetGi Joe 1992 Mail Away Hawk W Gold Gun & Variant File Card Complete & SealedHuge Gi Joe Cobra Lot 18 Custom Poc Retaliation 30th Roc Dg Resolute Loose 3.75G.i. Joe Headquarters Havoc Flagg Figures Raven Parts 17 Vehicles 1964 Vintage Gi Joe 12" Action Figure *hasbro* Military Accessories Japan TagGi Joe Desert Patrol Adventure Jeep With Box And Some Accessories