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    

Hasbro Gi Joe Vintage Mail Away Steel Brigade Action Figure LotVintage Actionman 7th CavalryGi Joe Adventure Team Bullet Man 1976Hasbro Gi Joe 1983 Grand Slam Unopened, Sealed, Never Removed, MibVintage Lot 6 1985 Gi Joe Figures Moc Bazooka Flint Zandar Dusty RareVintage Gi Joe Action Pilot Box Hasbro 1964? Box OnlyVintage 12" Gi Joe Eagle Eye Land Commander Action Figure Moving Eye UnopenedVintage 1985 Gi Joe Figures Moc Crimson Guard Commanders Tomax & Xamot !!!look!!1970 Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team Secret Of The Mummy's Tomb + Box Comic Vg NrBbi Elite Force Aviator: U-2 Pilot Captain Bob Chapman, 1:6 Scale G3.5 Body Vintage Lot 6 1980's Gi Joe Figures Jinx Eels Bullhorn Blizzard Moc RareDragon 1/6th Wwii German Luftwaffe Paratrooper Franz Mehl W/zundapp Ks-750Vintage Lot 6 1980's Gi Joe Figures Chuckles Rampart Recondo Spirit Moc RareHasbro G.i. Joe Vintage Mobat Mint In Open Box Bags Sealed Nice Box! Read! RareVintage Lot 4 1980's Gi Joe Figures Ambush Chuckles Wet-suit Beach Head Moc RareVintage Actionman/actionjoe SheriffVintage 1964 Hasbro Hong Kong T.m. 12" G.i. Joe Action Sailor Action Figure Authentic 1984 Gi Joe Firefly Afa 85 Moc Peach CardGi Joe Vintage 1983 Toltoys Action Man Flash Afa 80 Gi Joe Vintage Adventure Team Spacewalk Mystery Set W/ Astronaut & Original BoxVintage 1985 Gi Joe Bridge Layer (toss 'n Cross) Vehicle Mib & Tollbooth MisbDragon 1/6th Wwii British Sas JeepGi Joe Lot - 32 Figures (roc, Poc, Tru,retaliation, & More), Ninja Cruiser, HissVintage Mattel Big Jim's P.a.c.k. Blue & Gold Commander Figure Complete LooseVintage Actionman/actionjoe French Marine1975 Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team Bulletman Human Bullet Gijoe Action FigureHasbro G.i. Joe Vintage Water Moccasin Mint In Open Box Nice Box! Read! RareGi Joe Uss Flagg Vintage Vehicle Playset Aircraft Carrier 1985 Near CompleteVintage Lot 4 1980's Gi Joe Figures Big Boa Night Viper Saw Viper Moc RareVintage Lot 6 1980's Gi Joe Figures Storm Shadow Ripper Torch Buzzer Moc RareG.i Joe 1984 Cobra Storm Shadow 100% Complete W/file Card!Hasbro Gi Joe Starduster Jet Pack Trooper Action Figure LotVintage 1964 Original Hasbro Gi Joe Action Soldier #7500 Great Condition W/box1960 -1970s Vintage G.i. Joe Sea Adventurer Set W/ Manual Decals Brochures & TagVintage Lot 5 1980's Gi Joe Figures Scoop Outback Recoil Sub-zero Moc RareVintage Mattel Big Jim's P.a.c.k The Whip Figure With Nearly Everything LooseVintage Lot 5 1980's Gi Joe Figures Gung Ho Hawk Topside Sneak Peek Moc RareGi Joe 1983 1984? Mail Away Grand Slam Red Card Unopened, Sealed, MibHasbro 1983 Gi Joe Grand Slam, Unopened, Sealed, Never Removed, Mib#ltd Toy Stamp & 1964 Hasbro Gi Joe Action Soldier In BoxVintage Lot 5 1980's Gi Joe Figures Dee-jay Alpine Hardball Roadblock Moc RareGi Joe 1984 Mutt Afa Peach Fc Sealed Moc Mosc Never Opened Mip Unopened Nr Wow!!Big Jim Invisible Man By Cipsa Mexico Complete Suit Kid Acero Series Gi Joe 25th Roc Poc Lot Of Figures File Card Storm Shadow Stalker Viper NinjaUltimate Soldier Xd 21st Century Toys 1:18 Scale Wwii Action Figures KubelwagenGi Joe 1983 Headquarters Command Center W/huge Lot Gi Joe "winter Rescue" Adventure Team Mib Hasbro Strings Attached Rare 197380's Vintage Lot Of Gi Joe Action Figures **55 In All ** Vintage 1988 Gi Joe Figures Moc Night Force Tunnel Rat & Psyche-out !!!look!!!Vintage Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team Sky Hawk Box W/ Comic Book1966-67 Mattel Major Matt Mason Space Station 100% Complete With Original BoxVintage Lot 5 1980's Gi Joe Figures Salvo Downtown Rock Roll Roadblock Moc RareVintage 1964 Original Gi Joe 12" German Soldier Action Figure Vintage Mattel Big Jim's P.a.c.k. Torpedo Fist Complete Figure LooseCobra Missile Command Headquarters Unassembled In Box 1982 G.i.joe Figures SearsGi Joe Cobra Firefly Custom Figure By Stronox CustomsVintage Mattel Big Jim P.a.c.k Gold Commander Outfit Complete Just Add Figure1:6 Scale Very Cool Soviet Red Army Vcf2020 - HeadsculptGi Joe 1980's Vintage Action Figures Lot *1984 Storm Shadow & Cobra Commander1984 Gi Joe Lot Of 16 Figures With Acc G.i. Joe