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    

Dragon Wwii Tunisia 1943 Dak Motorcycle Vigo Treiber 1:6 Scale Dx05 70396Gi Joe Hasbro 36 Back 1985 Snake Eyes W/ Timber Sealed Moc (a)Vintage 1964 Gi Joe Action Figure Mint Condition In Original BoxVintage 1970 Talking Gi Joe Action Figure Mint Condition In Original Box1982/1983 Gi Joe Cobra Soldier!! Explosion Back!! Afa Graded!! Super Rare!! Moc Vintage Gi Joe Duke Action Figure 34 Back Moc Afa 85. Freshly GradedGi Joe Hasbro Argentina Plastirama Red Ninja Satan Gold Weapons Moc (t)Original Vintage Captain Action Outfit Steve Canyon Ideal Toy Co. 1966 Boxed1960 -1970s Vintage G.i. Joe (4) Boxed Sets Pilot Marine African American ActionGi Joe ------- 25th Big Boa Club Exclusive 100% W/fc ------- GijoeGi Joe Hasbro Action Force Uk Euro Shockwave Sealed Moc (l)Original 1964 Gi Joe 12" Action Figure W Scar/painted Hair Patent Pending NiceRare Nilco Snake Eyes Moc G.i.joe Egypt - Exact Item On Thecobratemple - SealedHasbro Gi Joe 12in 2000 Joe Friendship Vii Fao Schwarz Astronaut Space Capsule// Gi Joe // Vintage // Shore Patrol Striped Helmet // Compleye // Mkd. HasbroOriginal Vintage Captain Action Outfit Boxed The Phantom Ideal Toy 1966 / 3407Gi Joe Hasbro Palitoy Action Force Uk Euro Falcon Sealed Moc (i)Gi Joe Hasbro Action Force Cobra Officer Sealed Moc (x2)Vintage 1982 Sears Exclusive Gijoe Cobra Missile Command Headquarters W/ Box1967 Vintage Gi Joe 12" Action Figure Hasbro Hong Nurse Dress Outfit 7814Huge Lot Of Vintage 70's G.i. Joe Adventure Team Near Complete Sets Good Shape!Vintage Hasbro Original 1964 Gi Joe 12" Action Figure Massive Vintage Gi Joe 12" Adventure Team, Vehicles, Dolls Tons. Gijoe Lot Custom Trail Saddle 1/6th For Johnny West Horses And 12 Inch Action FiguresHuge Lot Of Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe Action Figures, Drawing Set, Machine Gun Box!Unproduced Hasbro G.i. Joe Arah 12" Voice Fx Venomous Maximus PrototypeGi Joe ------- 30th Poc Steel Brigade Delta 100% W/fc ------- Gijoe// Gi Joe // Desert Jeep Driver // Yellow Goggles // Really Nice Rare Set //Vintage Gi Joe Adventurer Team Helicopter Mint In Box (1971) Item#7380G.i. Joe Defiant Space ShuttleGi Joe Action Sailor 40th Anniversary 1964 Frogman SetGi Joe 1980's 3/4" Action Figures Loose ( Lot Of 25 Men Plus Accessories)Gi Joe 1982 - 1983 Cobra Soldier Moc Mosc Explosion Back Very Rare !! Phicen Seamless Cg Cy Girl Female Fire Red Rose 1/6 Figure Pale Color AaaJohnny West Series Johnny West Vintage Marx With Box & 24 Pc Gear Sealed, #2062Dragon Wwii Eastern Front 1943 Anti-tank Gunner Josef Reitcher 1:6 Scale 70641Hasbro 1964 G.i. Joe Action Figure Clothes Locker PamphletGi Joe ------- 1987 Mail In Steel Brigade 100% Comp ------- GijoeDragon Wwii Easter Front 1944 Heer Grenadier Rolf Hochbaur 1:6 Scale 70520Gi Joe Hasbro Argentina Plastirama Soldado Halcon Sealed Moc (t)Rare Nilco Baroness Moc G.i.joe Egypt Afa Graded 80 Nm Thecobratemple AuctionMego New 8 Inch Today's Mod Teen Mib Strange Doll From The 1970s BeardedHuge Vintage 1980's Gi Joe Arah Cobra Weapons Accessory Parts Lot Over 3 PoundsGi Joe Club Fss 25th Poc Big Boa CompleteSideshow Star Wars Snowtrooper 1/6 Scale Figure Brand New Never Been OpenedEnterbay 1/6 Scarface Al Pacino Tony Montana Figure Respect VersionGi Joe Pursuit Of Cobra Poc - Cobra Shock Trooper Lot Of 6 No. 1103 Loose RareGi Joe 1964 Vintage Hasbro Lot Of Six 12 Inch Figures And AccessoriesVintage Big Jim Mattel Pack Commander/leader V2 Doll/figure P.a.c.k. 9258 Kirby2 Huge Lots Of Vintage 70's G.i. Joe Adventure Team Sets & Rare Parts Good ShapeGi Joe 1984 Rip Cord Moc Mosc Peach 34 Back Halo Jumper Afa Ready Ultimate Soldier Schwimmwagen Land/water Recon Vehicle 1:6 ScaleGi Joe ----- 25th / 30th -- Helmet Lot Of 50 + For Customs ----- GijoeVintage Toy Marx Buddy Charlie American Fighter 1960's In Box Gi Joe Era ManualRare 1971 Gi Joe Advanturer Team Action Pack Escape From Danger Mint In Box Afa 85 Roadblock 3/32 BackGi Joe Sgt. Slaughter Sdcc Comic Con 2010 Exclusive Usa Version Brand New SealedGi Joe Club Fss 25th Poc Covergirl CompleteGi Joe Hasbro Action Force Stalker Sealed Moc (x2)1982 Gijoe Cobra Mobat Tank Driver ( Steeler ) 100% Complete W/ Filecard