Collectible G.I. Joe Action Figures

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 Comandos Em Acao Brazil Cobra De Aco Estrela Moc......1st Version ReleaseHuge Gi Joe Lot! Look! Night Force, Tiger Force, La Cobra Etc....Vintage 1960's Gi Joe Action Soldiers Of The World Sotw LotVintage 1972 Gi Joe Adventure Team Mobile Support Vehicle In Original Box HasbroVintage G.i. Joe Hasbro 1986 Tomahawk Misb Misp Mip Mib Unopened SealedStar Wars - 1979 Boba Fett - Afa 80 - Unpunched - Rare - Star Wars Afa Gi Joe Hasbro Halftrack 1/6 Scale For 12 InchesVintage 12" Inch Gi Joe Action Pilot 1964 In BoxHasbro Vintage Gi Joe Navy Sailor & SetsVintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Tan Trouble Shooter Vehicle W/ Track Tread Hasbro1987 Gi Joe Jet Pack Trooper Starduster Complete W/acc & Filecard Mail Away 1cVintage 1960s Gi Joe Desert Patrol Attack Jeep1982 - 1994 Vintage Gi Joe Cobra Mixed Body Parts Pieces Figures Lot1/6th Scale Marmit Star Wars Stormtrooper From Japan BoxedVintage 12" Inch Gi Joe 1964 Action Soldier In BoxVintage Gi Joe Arah 1984 Tracker Spirit, Moc Factory Sealed Peach Back Afa ReadyHuge Lot Of Vintage (1964) Gi Joe And Accessories In Foot LockerDragon Action Man British Ww2 Raf Fighter Pilot Spitfire Battle Of Britain2014 Joecon Steel Brigade Delta - Convention Exclusive, Figure Only, No VtolGi Joe 1986 Dreadnok Ground Assault Near Complete Very Rare Sears ExclusiveRemco American Defense Us Forces Figures Lot Black Clear Ninja Rare Gi Joe Ko Tmnt 1988 Raphael - Tmnt Afa - 10 Back - Unpunched! Afa 801964 Hasbro Gi Joe Action Marine Fantastic Condition In Original Box Vintage Gi Joe Cobra Huge Weapons Accessories Lot 200+Gi Joe Joecon 2014 Toxo-viper Commander Repulsor & Dawg FiguresHuge Vintage Ideal Captain Action Toy Lot 2 Dolls+outfits And AccessoriesVintage 1970's Gi Joe Adventure Team Sea Wolf Parts2014 Gi Joe Con Zombie Initiative 15 Figure Set W/ Con ExclusivesVintage 1964 Gi Joe Jeep Desert Patrol Jeep W/box1989 Gi Joe Gijoe Tiger Force Psyche-out Moc Action Force Uk CardHot Toys Iron Man 2 Mark Ii Armor Unleashed Version Figure And BoxGi Joe 1988 Night Force Outback Complete With File Card RareGi Joe Killer Whale Hovercraft Awesome!Vintage Ideal Captain Action Superman Outfit With Accessories Even Kryptonite1964 Hasbro Gi Joe Action Pilotfantastic Condition In Original BoxSideshow Freddy Vs Jason Freddy Krueger Horror Movie 12" 1/6th Scale Figure MibGi Joe Con Club 2014 Joe Colton 3.75" (3 3/4") Figure Mint On Card1989 Vintage Gi Joe Night Force Spearhead And Max (v2) 100% CompleteVintage 1964 Gi Joe Figure Dark Hair Survivor W/scar Blonde 12 Painted RivetGi Joe Hasbro Willys Jeep Wwii 1/6 Scale1/6 German Sidecar Motorcycle B.m.w 21st Ultimate, Dragon, Gi Joe, All 12" FigurOriginal 1966 Captain Action Captain America Uniform With AccessoriesVintage Action Man Horse '' Great Condition ''Big Boa Gi Joe 25th Fss Collectors Club Exclusive G I Joe 2013Gi Joe Joecon 2014 Steel Brigade Vtol Pilot FigureGi.joe Scarlett Hasbro Direct Moc Arah Straight Arm 1982 V1 Nr Flat ShippingMarx Johnny West Mike Hazard Secret Agent With Never Used Exploding Bag & StuffHasbro 1970 Gi Joe Talking Adventure Team Commander With Accessories (works)Vintage Actionman Original Tottenham Badge2014 Gi Joe Con Convention Joecon Night Force Crazy Legs Parachute Drop Figure !Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team Training Tower Center Headquarter Drag Bike1966 Hasbro G.i. Joe Action Figure United States Glow In The Dark Space CapsuleMattel Big Jim Lot Of 4 Action Figures Jeff Torpedo Steel Whip + Clothes WeaponsHe-man Motu 1984 Orko - Motu Heman Afa2014 Gi Joe Convention Exclusive Night Force Crazylegs Sold-outBig Jim Pro Sports Mix Complete Mint In Box! Figure Has Hang Tag! All Accs! Vintage 12" 1964 German Russian Gi Joe Hasbro Toy Adventure Team Soldier Ww2 60sGi Joe Machine Gun Set #7514 Vintage 1964 Moc 12" 1/6 Scale Army Action SoldierGi Joe Club 2014 Convention Exclusive Repulsor With Dawg2014 Joecon Gi Joe Convention Clutch!! Complete!