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    

1964 Gi Joe Hasbro 12" Action Figure Fully Dressed *hong Kong* Policeman M&a1964 Gi Joe 12" Action Figure *hong Kong* Race Car Driver Trophy Racing Suit M&a1970 Gi Joe Hasbro *talking Astronaut* Figure In Original Box *he Works*! M&aG.i. Joe Snakes Eyes Afa 80 MoscVintage 1984 G.i. Joe Zartan With Swamp Skier (chameleon) Unused Mib Sealed1/6 Scale Did Galloping Brown Calvary Western Realistic Horse With Black Saddle 21st Century Ultimate Soldier 1/6 Scale Jeep 82nd Airborne With Three FiguresVintage 1983 Gi Joe Cobra Officer 20 Back Peach Afa 75 Moc Sealed1970s Hasbro Adventures Of Gi Joe Danger Of The Depths Set W Wet Suit & Box LidVintage 1983 G. I. Joe Cobra Commander Sealed, Unpunched Original CardGi Joe 2002 Joe Con Convention Crimson Strike Team Box SetVintage Arah Gi Joe Cobra Figures Guns Parts Accessories Custom Lot1960s Hasbro Action Pilot Gi Joe Fighter Pilot Set In Rare Photo Display Box1964 Gi Joe Hasbro *action Marine* Figure In Original Box Excellent Cond! M&aGi Joe Vintage 1970 Adventure Team Rare Flying Space Astronaut Bubble Helmet NrVintage 80's Gi Joe ~ ** Dragonfly Helicopter ** 1983 ~ Afa 70/85/90 SdccVintage Actionman/joe French OfficerAction Man Space Ranger Rom The Space Knight Mib PalitoyVintage 1960s Mattel Major Matt Mason Figure With Space Sled & Accessories NiceGi Joe 2009 Joe Con Convention Crimson Strike Team Boxed Set 1964 Gi Joe Action Figure 12" Hasbro W/rifle, Boots, Uniform, Hong Kong !m&aVintage Actionman British Shock Paratrooper1964 Gi Joe 12" Action Figure *hong Kong* Hasbro Leather Jacket +++ Military M&aVintage Arah Gi Joe Cobra Rare Htf Guns Weapons Parts Accessories Custom Lot1964 G.i. Joe Brunette W/blue Eyes 12" Action Figure Or Doll W/accessories! #2271982 Gi Joe Short-fuze Moc Afa 80 Nm Hasbro Cobra Straight ArmDragon 1/6 Jeep Willys Truck Limited Ultimate Soldier Bbi Elite Force Gi Joe Vintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Big Trapper Vintage 1983, 1985 G. I. Joe Commando "snake Eyes" Unpunched, Factory Sealed Vintage Hasbro 12 Inch G.i. Joe 1964; Gi Joe Talking Sailor 1967Vintage 1960's G.i. Joe Talking Marine Foreign Head Figure 12in 1964 HasbroG.i. Joe Lot 2 - Action Figures - Vehicles - Accessories - File Cards - Gijoe1970s Hasbro Gi Joe Adventure Team Devil Of The Deep Set W Air Boat & Manta RayG.i. Joe Lot 4 - Action Figures - Vehicles - Accessories - File Cards - GijoeGi Joe Cobra 25th 30th Roc Poc Retaliation Helmets Parts Accessories Custom Lot1960 -1970s Vintage G.i. Joe Lot (6) Excellent Gi Joes W/ Uniforms & Boots1:6 Hot Toys Soldier Story W.custom Modern Warfare 2 Shadow Company OperativeNew Nib Sealed Hasbro Gi Joe 12" Action Figure Jeep Desert Patrol VehicleStar Wars Boba Fett Proto. Armor Mail Order Afa U9.0 - Afa Star WarsG.i. Joe 25th Anniversary Lot Plus Sdcc Exlusives And ExtrasVintage 1960s Mattel Major Matt Mason Figure With Space Travel Pak NiceG.i. Joe Lot 3 - Action Figures - Vehicles - Accessories - File Cards - GijoeHuge 1964-74 Gi Joe Action Man Parts Repair Lot G. I. Joe Figures 1982-1990 Huge Lot 100+ & Accessories Nr 1960s Hasbro Gi Joe Action Sailor Deep Freeze Set In Rare Photo Display Box1985 Gi Joe Snow Serpent Moc Afa 85 Nm+ Hasbro CobraVintage 1964 Gi Joe With Footlocker And Accessories All Original+beautiful Lot!Vintage Actionman Raf Ground Crew1964 Vintage Gi Joe Action Sailor Hasbro *original Box* Ex!! W/accessories M&aLarge Vintage Gi Joe Adventure Team 1960's Clothing, Acessories, Estate Find Dragon Action Man Custom 1/6 German Elite Ww2 Sniper France 1944Vintage Actionman Long Range Desert GroupGi Joe Vintage 1970 Adventure Team Rare Flying Space Adventure Astronaut Camera1966 Gi Joe 12" Action Figure *indian* Full Gear & Dressed + Head Dress Wig M&aDragon 1/6 Scale Nasa Apollo Astronaut( Buck)Gi Joe And Indiana Jones 15 Figure Lot1964 Gi Joe Action Figure 12" Hasbro W/dog Tags, Boots, Jumpsuit, Hong Kong !m&aGi Joe Retaliation Ultimate Crimson Guard Lot Of 6 V 16 Loose CompleteLot Of 78 G.i. Joe File Cards 1983 1984 1985 1986 Arah Cobra Hasbro Filecard 1964 Gi Joe 12" Action Figure *japan* Hasbro Palitoy Rifle Jumpsuit Boots M&a