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    

1967 Vintage Gi Joe Nurse 12" Figure Medic Doll Beautiful Condition!21st Century Ultimate Soldier Wwii M3 Scout Car 1/6 Scale Rare!!21st Century Ultimate Soldier 1:6 Scale Rc M5 Stuart Tank, Figures & Extras Lot!Vintage Gi Joe Lot - Havoc Dreadnok Swampfire Cobra Stun Serpentor - New Nos NibVintage 1964 Gi Joe Japanese Imperial Soldier W/ 2 Uniforms & AccessoriesVintage 1960s Gi Joe - State Trooper - Police Uniform & Accessories Holster NrVintage 1970s Palitoy Action Men Plus Job Lot Of Clothes And EquipmentVintage 1964 Gi Joe Japanese Imperial Soldier W/ Uniform & Box1972 Gi Joe Adventure Team Mobile Support Vehicle 12" Figures Nmib With Inserts2004 Hasbro Gi Joe - Convention Exclusive - Tiger Force Hard Top! 100% Comp!!Vintage Gi Joe~hasbro 1964~dolls/clothes/lot Of Accessories/case/action FigureGi Joe 25th Vehicle Lot Artic Hiss W/ Driver & Cobra Sting Raider W/ Copperhead 21st Century Toys 1/6 Scale Cia Helicopter "little Bird"Hot Toys 1/6 Sideshow Exclusive Iron Man Mark Iv Secret Project MibG.i. Joe Cobra Joecon 2007 Convention Rowdy Roddy Piper Destro Grenadiers AutoGi Joe - Vintage 12" G.i. Joe Japanese Soldier With Uniform - Hasbro 1966 WowVintage 1975 Ideal Toys Evel Knievel Scramble Van Playset Clean With BoxVintage Gi Joe Straight Arm Figure Lot Cobra Commander Troops 11 FiguresToy 1/6 Scale Action Figure Judge Dredd Heavy Armored Cop Mint In BoxVintage Lot 60's Gi Joe Adventure Team Combat Jeep Cannon Parachute Atv Parts NrVintage G.i. Joe Cobra Battle Armor S.n.a.k.e. Snake Rare Mib Bagged Boxed MintVintage Gi Joe Foot LockerGi Joe 25th Anniversary Defense Of Cobra Island 7 PackUltimate Soldier Super Marine Spitfire Mk.1 Xd 1/18 NewLtd Toy Stamp & 1960s Hasbro Gi Joe Combat Jeep W Trailer & FigureVntg Gi Joe State Trooper Motorcycle W/box Irwin Cherilea Actionman Police CycleGi Joe 25th Vehicle Lot Awe Striker W/ Crankcase & Blue Cobra Hiss W/ Driver Roc// Gi Joe // White Shore Patrol Radio // Vintage // Marked Hasbro Hong Kong //Gi Joe's - Vintage 1960's Lot Of 3Vintage Hasbro 1980s Gi Joe Figure Lot G.i. Joe 1980 3.75in.Vintage 1966 Gi Joe Japanese Imperial Soldier W/ Uniform Boots & HelmetVintage 1967 Hasbro Gi Joe West Point Cadet #7537 Excellent Condition Plus BonusGi Joe Sgt Slaughter 2010 Comic Con International Sdcc Triple T DecoLarge (80)+ Lot Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe 1965-75 Figures Weapons Helmets Clothing 1960s Marx Boxed N-mint Sam Cobra Renegade Bad Man Action Figure No 2072// Gi Joe // Adventure Team // Boxed Talking Commander // Vintage 1970 // Nice /1989 Gi Joe "crusader Space Shuttle & Payload* Lot 100% Complete Vehicle +bpG.i. Joe Figure Lot Of 18 Plus Accessories Vintage Classic Vintage Gi Joe Figure & Accessory Lot Stalker Shipwreck Roadblock ScarlettVintage Gi Joe Action Marine 1965/66 Box + Uniform Paperwork AccessoriesUltimate Soldier 1/18 Scale M2 BradleyHuge Vintage 82-87 Gi Joe 95 Figure 20 Vehicle Accessories Weapon Lot CollectionHot Toys 1/6 Sideshow Iron Man 2 Custom Whiplash Figure In Box1964 Gi Joe Action Figure Adventure Team Hasbro Toys Vintage Lot 12in2002 Hasbro Gi Joe Sgt Rock W/ Accessories New In BoxVintage Gi Joe Jeep With TrailerVintage Gi Joe Deep Sea Diver Complete Set 1964-65 Action Man Action SailorVintage Gi Joe Large Figure And Parts LotGi Joe 2004 Joe Con Convention 3.5in Dreadnok Rampage Action Figure CollectionMarx Boxed Johnny West Buckboard With ThunderboltVintage 1985 G.i. Joe Vipers (cobra Infantry) Mint On CardVintage 1964 Gi Joe Official Space Capsule W/astronaut Figure Box40+ Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe,cobra Miniature Action Figure Lot:1980’s W/ Cards-usedVintage 1964 Gi Joe Action Marine Action Figure In Box With Extra Clothes Nice!Vintage Gi Joe A.t. Sea Adventurer - Kung Fu Grip W/ Original Box-1974 (#7281)1988 Gi Joe Cobra "bugg & Secto-viper* 100% Complete Vehicle & Figure Lot1965 G.i. Joe Deep Sea Diver Figurine W/paper In G.i. Joe Action Pilot Box NiceHasbro 1974 Gi Joe Talking Adventure Team Commander Kung-fu Grip & Mint BoxVintage Gi Joe Vehicle Lot - Mauler Bridgelayer Cobra Stun Heavy Metal TollboothVintage G.i.joe Adventure Team Seaplane