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 // Huge Vintage Clothing Lot // Seven Footlockers Full // Played WithHuge Gi Joe Cobra Lot Over 175 1980s Vintage Figure Lot With Weapons 1982-90s// Gi Joe // Massive Vintage Gi Joe Lot // 99% Hasbro // Five Footlockers //Gi Joe Us Marine Corps Corduroy Uniform1/6 Scale Hasbro Gi Joe Soldiers Of The World Jeep Shore Patrol Vehicle1983 Gi Joe Combat Jet Skystriker (xp-14f) Mib Minty Usa Original Box HtfHuge Gi Joe & Cobra Figures Lot (31) Figures Poc, 25th Anniversary, 30th Roc1/6 Dragon Armor Hobbies Cyber Hobby German Wwii Demag Sd.kfz. 10/4 With Flak 38Vintage 1960's Gi Joe With Complete Jungle Fighter Outfit And FootlockerGi Joe Talking Man Of Action Mib Vintage Hasbro Toy Action Figure Soldier-niceLot Of Loose Gi Joe 25th Anniversary Figures, Weapons, Stands* Vintage G.i. Joe Action Force Tiger Force Tiger Sting Sealed Mib Boxed Mint *Dragon Nasa Apollo Astronaut Buck 1/6 12inch Action Figure New In Box!Huge Lot Of Vintage Gi Joe Cobra Action Figures & Accessories - Nice! Arah G.i. Gi Joe Uss Flagg Aircraft CarrierVintage 1964 Lot Of Gi Joe Adventure Locker & Accessories +clothing ~ 80+ PiecesVintage 1985 G.i. Joe Flint (warrant Officer) - Mint On CardUltimate Soldier 1:6 Ww2 JeepUltimate Soldier Dragon Bbi Gi Joe Luftwaffe Nazi 1:6 German Officer Pilot LotRare 1964 Gi Joe Action Figures & Accessories Lot Field Phones & More! Vintage 1960's Fuzz Hair Gi Joe With Footlocker And Lots Of AccessoriesVintage 1975 G.i. Joe Life-like Man Of Action 12 Inch Figure - Sealed On Card!Punisher Custom Action Figure Marvel Gi Joe 50th 30th Fss Sdcc RetaliationVintage Hasbro 1970's Talking Gi Joe Adventure Team Commander Including The BoxVintage 1985 G.i. Joe Tomax & Xamot (crimson Guard Commanders) 2-pack Mint!!1966 Gi Joe Official Sea Sled And Frogman Empty Box With Insert HasbroVintage 1964 Gi Joe Hasbro #7500 Action Soldier With Triple Tm BoxVintage Ideal Captain Action Figure 1960s Costumes Accessories SpidermanGi Joe Avenger Pursuit Craft, Box, Lotsa Good Parts, Sears 1976, + Figure PartsGi Joe Bundle Lot 5 Tiger Force Vehicles & Devil Fish Boats - 5 Vehicles!Gi Joe Uss Flagg 90% CompleteVintage Gi Joe Desert Patrol Attack Jeep In Excellent Condition!1982-1986 G.i. Joe Arah Childhood Collection Figures,weapons,vehicles Lot!Vintage 60's Marx Stony Smith Military Action Figure W/ Footlocker, AccessoriesVintage 1985 G.i. Joe Storm Shadow (cobra Ninja) - Mint On CardCobra Sentry Tank & Missile System Sms Gi Joe Sears Box & Instr. Crimson GuardGi Joe Rise Of Cobra Rhino With Rampage Target Exclusive MisbUltimate Soldier 1:6 Ww2 German Motorcycle & DriverOriginal 1964 Vintage Gi Joe Talking Astronaut Painted Red Hair Slot Shoulders1966 Gi Joe Official Sea Sled HasbroVintage 1985 G.i. Joe Spirit (tracker) Mint - Unpunched CardJohnny West Covered Wagon With Box1967 Vintage G.i. Joe #7612 Shore Patrol Set- Action SailorGi Joe Club 2010 Dial-tone - Gijcc Club Membership Figure Joecon Carded Rare MocHuge Lot Of G.i.joeDragon Ww2 (12") Blitz (horse) & Horst (no Boxed) Wehrmacht (1/6th Scale German 1983 Gijoe "wolverine" Lot Complete With Watch Tower And "spirit"Gi Joe 2014 Convention Joe Con Exclusive Skyhawk Vtol W/ Steel Brigade Pilot (cVintage 1985 G.i. Joe Gung-ho (marine) Mint - Unpunched CardVintage 1985 G.i. Joe Scrap Iron (anti-armor Specialist) Mint - Unpunched CardGi Joe Big Boa Fss Club 100%21st Century Ultimate Soldier 1/6 Scale Motorcycle With Sidecar And FigureListing/lot 7 Of 11 Rise Of Cobra G.i. Joe Outpost Defender - New - Walmart*new* Gi Joe Vamp Mk Ii With Steel Brigade Delta - 30th Poc - MisbSet Of 2 Marx Noble Knights Action Figures Gold And Silver With Armor & HorsesVintage G.i. Joe Sotw Japanese Imperial Soldier - Gi JoeVintage Gijoe Huge Lot Of Accessories!!Rare Action Force Gi Joe Tiger Force Outback Figure Euro Exclusive Near CompleteGi Joe Body Parts And Pieces LotLot Of (10) Vintage 1980's Hasbro G.i. Joes Arah Figures