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    

G.i. Joe Defiant Space Shuttle Unapplied And Unassembled With Shipping BoxVintage Actionman 1670's/70's Lotus Race CarHuge Gi Joe Lot! Look! Night Force, Tiger Force, La Cobra Etc....Vintage 1964 Palitoy Action Man Talking And Working With Boxes1987 G.i. Joe Defiant: Shuttle Box, Instructions Hard Top Payload Complete LookGi Joe Comandos Em Acao Brazil Cobra De Aco Estrela Moc......1st Version ReleaseVtg Hasbro 12" Action Figure Gi Joe Figurine 1964 Black Hair Scar Face Parts LotGi Joe Convention Joecon 2014 Zombie Initiative Bagged Set Unopened Mint PackageG.i. Joe Combat Jet Skystriker Action Vehicle And Figure Sealed In Box21st Century Ultimate Soldier Ah-6 Little Bird Helicopter 1/6 Scale With 2 FigurG.i. Joe Tomahawk Action Vehicle And Figure Sealed In Box1982 Gi Joe Scarlett Moc Afa 85 Nm+ Cobra Unpunched Straight ArmVintage Bullet Man 1975 Hasbro Super Joe Adventure Team Gi Joe--ships WorldwideVintage Action Man Helicopter Pilot BoxedHuge Vintage Gi Joe Figure Clothes Weapons Acc. Lot Adventure Team 12" Hasbro1989 Gi Joe Mib Crusader Space Shuttle Avenger Scout Craft & Payload Afa 85 (bt)Gi Joe Hasbro Halftrack 1/6 Scale For 12 InchesGi Joe 1984 Cobra Storm Shadow Complete With Full File Card 1964 Dark Skin Painted Black Hair G.i. Joe Action Figure SoldierVintage 1975 Gi Joe G.i. Joe African American Adventure Team Fuzz Head Muscle9 Lot Vtg 80's Gi Joe Gijoe Action Figure Mosc Moc 1 Nrfb 3 3/4 Figurine 1988-91Gi Joe 1980s Hasbro Toys - Mixed LotGi Joe Convention Joecon 2014 Zombie Steel Brigade Trooper From Zombie 3-pack Vintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Helicopter In Org. Box . Great ConditionG.i. Joe Night Striker Afa 85 Q-nm+Gi Joe Collection Lot Including Uss Flagg CarrierBeach Head Afa 90 1986 Gi JoeMisb Action Force Af Hovercraft.......sealed .....never Opened..great ConditionVintage Gi Joe Cobra Army Builder Python Patrol Viper Officer C-8 Figures Lot1987 Gi Joe Gijoe Commandos Heroicos Mutt W/mexican Mexico Boxed Figure, NrfbVintage Action Man Bullet Man In Great Condition1964 Brown Painted Hair Green Beret G.i. Joe Action Figure Soldier W/ Dog Tags +Vintage 1960s Gi Joe Desert Patrol Attack JeepG.i. Joe Night Boomer Afa 80 Nm1982 Gi Joe Cobra Officer Moc Afa 85 Nm+ Unpunched Straight Arm Archival1987 Gi Joe Jet Pack Trooper Starduster Complete W/acc & Filecard Mail Away 1cG.i. Joe Night Ray Afa 85 Nm+Vintage G.i. Joe Hasbro 1986 Tomahawk Misb Misp Mip Mib Unopened SealedGi Joe Joecon Convention Dial Tone Mission Brazil Rare!!! CompleteVintage Lot Of 9 Hasbro Action Figures. Gi JoeGi Joe Cobra 1984 Zartan V.1 Swamp Skier - Afa Sealed21st Century M5a1 Stuart Tank 1:6 ScaleGi Joe Collectors Club Convention Oktober Guard Daina1/6th Scale Marmit Star Wars Stormtrooper From Japan BoxedVintage Gi Joe Air Adventurer Complete 1970 W/ Dog Tag & Orange Suit Advent TeamCanada G.i. Joe Desert Trooper Dusty 36 Back Afa 85 Nm+Sideshow Exclusive BaronessGi Joe 1982 Series Lot AwesomeRare Vintage 1964 Hasbro G.i. Joe Land Warrior Caucasian Action Figure Lot Japan1988 Gi Joe Flint / Warrant Officer Moc Tiger Force!! Sealed! Never Opened Afa?1986 Gi Joe Dial-tone / Communications Moc Still Sealed!! Never Opened! Awesome!Sideshow Cobra Saboteur FireflyVintage Gi Joe Military Police Mp Tan Airborne Armband With Snaps Htf Nr Exc1985 Vintage Gi Joe Listen N Fun Tripwire Action Figure1986 Vintage Gi Joe Cobra Conquest X-30 Vehicle Parts Wholesale Dealers Lot1/6 Scale Napoleonic French Cuirassier Saddle For Dragon & Did HorsesRare 1969 Gi Joe Spaceman The Hidden Missile Discovery Set1970's Mattel Canada-big Jim Jungle Adventure Gorilla-mib-nrfb!-ships Worldwide2014 Gi Joe Convention Joecon Crazy Legs Night Force Parachute Figure In Pkg G.i Joe 2014 Convention Joecon Parachute Drop Night Force Crazy Legs Sealed Bag