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]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Star Wars 32 Figure Lot Boba Fett Yoda Leia Vader Weapons Case Kenner 21st Century Toys Ultimate Soldier 1/6 M3 White Scout Car W/7 Troops + ExtrasThe Walking Dead #1 First Print White Letters Image 2003 1st Rick Grimes Vf+1985 Gi Joe Cobra Crimson Guard Commanders Twins Tomax Xamot Moc Afa Worthy!!!1984 Gi Joe Cobra Rattler Open Box Complete Sealed Content Packaging No Reserve21st Century Toys Ultimate Soldier 1:6 Scale Mb Wwii Vehicle Action Figure Xtras1982 Hasbro Gi Joe Counter Intelligence Scarlett Mint On The CardBig Lot Vintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Vehicles, Figure, Atv Sea Wolf Toy ScubaGi Joe Tiger Force Full Lot Of Vehicles And 10 Figure Incomplete1983 Gi Joe Cobra Command Attack Glider Falcon1983 Gi Joe Jet Pack Jump With Grand Slam FigureVintage Original 1970 Hasbro Talking Gi Joe Astronaut In The Custom Box Hasbro 45 Figure G.i. Joe Lot, With Weapons And I.d. Cards21st Century Toys The Ultimate Soldier 1/6 Scale Little Bird Helicopter 12" FigsVintage Original Boxed 1970 Full Parade Accoutrement Action Man Horse Palitoy 1988 Gi Joe Night Force Night Striker1966 Gi Joe Action Sailor Original Box & 14 Assorted Related ManualsHuge Lot Of 25 Loose 100% Complete Vintage Hasbro G.i. Joe Arah Cobra Figures C9Gandalf Lord Of The Rings Figure Knickerbocker 1979 Complete Fantastic Cond Lotr1967 Vintage Talking Gi Joe Action Sailor Hasbro Box Accessories Papers As Is Vintage Original Mattel Big Jim Wolf Pack Lazer Vette Boxed Mib RareMagpul Moe Adjustable Stock With Bcm Carbine Buffer Tube And H Buffer, GripVintage 1964 Hasbro Gi Joe Action Pilot In Box-#7800 *near Mint*1985 Gi Joe C.a.t. Motorized Crimson Attack Tank Cat1960's G.i. Joe 5 Star Jeep & Trailer W/cannon Missles Spotlight Works Lot#81985 Gi Joe Cobra Ninja Storm Shadow Moc 36 BackHuge Lot Of Wwii Did 1/6 Scale Men Accessories Equipment1987 G.i.joe Outback (survivalist) Afa "triple-85!" **unpunched** AwesomeNr 21st Century Toys The Ultimate Solider Ww2 German Motorcycle W/ Side Car1964 Gi-joe Marine Lot 2 Sets Clothes Accessories Helmet Tent Booklets W/ Box Gi Joe Jeep-rapid Assault Vehicle-for 12in Figures-2002-hasbro1985 Gi Joe Mauler Mbt Battle Tank M.b.t.1985 Gi Joe Cobra Commando Snake Eyes Moc 34 Back1964 Vintage Gi Joe Joezeta: 1970 Adventure Team Hidden Missile Discovery MibGi Joe Create A Cobra Main In 1993 & Steel Brigade V1c 1988 Complete Main InGi Joe ------- 1992 Mail-in Cobra Ninja-viper 100% W/fc ------- GijoeLarge Mixed Lot Of 58 Gi Joe Type Action Figures Military Army MenGi Joe ---- 1982 Cobra Commander Super (mickey Mouse) Emblem 100% W/fc1982 Gi Joe Ranger Moc 9 BackHuge Lot G.i. Joe Box Vintage Accessories And Clothing W/ G.i.joe 1964 1/6 Phicen Pl2015-m30 Super Flexible Seamless Male Body Stainless Steel Hot Sale 1987 Gi Joe Mobile Command CenterNew Hot Toys Sideshow Exclusive Dc Comics Harley Quinn--vhtfGijoe Devils Due Mtf Dollar General Custom Plague Squad Trooper Army Builder Lot1964 G.i. Joe Foot Locker Pilot Medic Gear Radio Clothing Tent Accessories Lot#5Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe 1975 Adventure Team Black Widow Rendezvous Gi Joe 1989 Full Set 15+ Figures Near Complete Rolling Thunder Complete Others1984 Gi Joe Cobra Rattler Box Is Open The Contents Is Completely Sealed1983 Gi Joe Armored Missile Vehicle Wolverine1985 Gi Joe Cobra Enemy Tomax / Xamot Crimson Guard Commanders Vintage Gi Joe 12" Clothing Accessories, Captain Action, Action Jackson All !!!1983 Gi Joe Cobra Hiss VehicleGi Joe 1984 Storm Shadow V1 100% Complete With File Card Rare Great PaintUltimate Solider German Motorcycle W/side Car & Gi Joe Harley Davidson1982 Hasbro Gi Joe Bazooka Soldier Mint On The CardGi Joe -- 25th Lot Of 3 - Baroness, Resolute Destro & Doctor W/acc's -- Gijoe1982 1983 G.i.joe *cobra!!* Major Bludd! (mercenary) Moc Afa Graded! Archival!G.i.joe Color Copy Of 1988 Shockwave Presentation Art By George WoodbridgeNew Hot Toys Sideshow Exclusive G.i. Joe Red Ninja--vhtfSideshow Collectibles Gi Joe Firefly