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 Hasbro Gi Joe Nurse 8066 Complete & Exc Cond ~ Old Vintage Toy Action GirlVintage Gi Joe '86 Cobra Terror Drome 100% Complete New In Box Firebat Avac Mib Vintage 1974 Adventure Team Talking Commander Gi Joe Mint In Cello Sealed Box !!G.i.joe 25th Anniversary/roc/retaliation Huge Lot 111 G.i.joe Figures LooseGi Joe Adventure The Mouth Of Doom Jungle Explorer - Complete W/ Box Old VintageGi Joe / 21st Century Toys Wwii M8 Light Armored Vehicle + 3 Soldiers 1/6 Scale// Gi Joe // White Shore Patrol Radio // Vintage // Marked Hasbro Hong Kong //1989 Gi Joe Gijoe Tiger Force Outback Moc Action Force Uk Card1969 Gi Joe Deluxe Adventure Fight For Survival Polar Dog Sled Etc W/ Box 7982 Gi Joe Lot Of 4 W/custom Vehicle Shock Troopers Firefly Poc Gi Joe Lot #1 From 30th, 25th, Rise Of Cobra, Pursuit Of Cobra Modern FiguresHuge Vtg Gi Joe Lot 1980s Action Figures Accessories Playsets Vehicles +++ G.i. Joe Firefighter Gear Sealed New, 1969 Hasbro Original, G.i. Joe M.p. Sealed12" Vintage Gi Joe Stamped Gi Joe 1964 Not Sure Name Lot #2Gi Joe Lot #3 From 30th, 25th, Rise Of Cobra, Pursuit Of Cobra Modern FiguresVintage Gi Joe Official Jeep Combat Set W/ Cannon & Trailer (w/ Motor & No Plug)Vintage 1974 Hasbro #7284 Man Of Action Gi Joe W/ Kung Fu Grip In Orig. BoxVintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Training Center Tower Plus 5 Vintage Figures, MorePhicen 1/6 Large Breast Tan Female Figure Cy Girl Hot Toys 12 Inch Nude Loose 12" Vintage Gi Joe Stamped Gi Joe 1964 Not Sure Name Lot #6Rare Find!! 1971 Mattel Big Jim Toy Store Counter Top DisplayVintage 1970 Hasbro #7500 Man Of Action Gi Joe Near Mint In Orig. BoxHasbro Gi Joe Killer Whale Hovercraft Vehicle With Figure & Original (opend) BoxCustom 1/6th Gunbelt Set Fits Dragon,gi Joe Sideshow 12 Inch Action Figures Vintage Gi Joe Adventure Team At Secret Mummy's Tomb Figure Lot Mummy AtvGi Joe Adventure Set Hidden Missile Discovery W/ Box 7952 - Spaceman Astronaut 1969 Gi Joe - Test Pilot Fantastic Free Fall 7951 ** Original Box Only **1:6 Hot Toys Soldier Story B.w.custom Para Military Unit B1:6 Hot Toys Soldier Story B.w.custom Special Operations Unit B12" Vintage Gi Joe Stamped Gi Joe 1964 Not Sure Name Lot #4Vintage Gi Joe 1964 Capsule Space Mystery Walk Figure Accessories Lot // Gi Joe // Adventure Team // Air Adventurer Box // Top & Bottom // Good //Vintage Antique Original Gi Joe 12" Accessories Box Lot 1960s GearVintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Commander 12" Action Figure 7400 1970 Scoped RifleGi Joe Lot #2 From 30th, 25th, Rise Of Cobra, Pursuit Of Cobra Modern FiguresG.i.joe Secret Mission To Spy Island (hasbro) New Old Stock Sealed 1970 OriginalNib.  mint Big Jim Mattel No 4332 Vintage Rare  1972 Doll Barbie KenVintage 1964 Gi Joe Action Marine Action Figure In Box With Extra Clothes Nice!Schleich World Of Knights Castle 40191 W/people & Dragon ~ritterburg Playset 1:6 Hot Toys Soldier Story B.w.custom Para Military Unit AM.a.s.k. Mask Kenner Action Figure And Vehicle Lot Rhino + 1985 Vintage Gi Joe Uss Flagg Aircraft Carrier Playset-great Gift For Christmas!Gi Joe Arah 25th Poc - Loose Lot Of 62 Figures And Accessories - G.i. RecondoVintage Gi Joe 1983 Apc Amphibious Personnel Carrier *new In Box* 100% Complete1:6 Hot Toys Soldier Story B.w.custom Special Operations Unit AVintage Gi Joe 1964 Footlocker Figure Foot Locker Accessories Lot Gi Joe Space Capsule Friendship Vii 7 With Astronaut Action Fgure Usa HasbroG.i. Joe Uss Flagg Aircraft Carrier With Original Box, & Assembly Instructions Vintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Lot// Gi Joe // Adventure Team // Boxed Talking Commander // Vintage 1970 // Nice /Rare 1974 Australian Olympics Big Jim Yellow Shorts Karate Chop12" Vintage Gi Joe Stamped Gi Joe 1964 Lot #1312" Vintage Gi Joe Stamped Gi Joe 1964 Not Sure Name Lot #7Vintage Gi Joe Clothing And Accessory Custom Gi Joe Deep Sea Diver Atmospheric Diving Suit 3 3/4" 1/18 Scale Shipwreck12" Vintage Gi Joe Stamped Gi Joe 1964 Not Sure Name Lot #11Vintage Actionman Marx JeepVtg 1964 Gi Joe Action Pilot Hair Scar Original Box W/extras***gi Joe Defiant Space Vehicle Launch Complex 1987 Hasbro Vehicle***Dragon Cyber Hobby 1/6 Wwii German Kubelwagen Type 82 Balloon Tires