Happy Birthday G.I. Joe

Hasbro released G.I. Joe on February 2, 1964, and sparked a revolution in the toy industry. G.I. Joe has survived through multiple generations and several wars. Today he stands as a global icon in the toy and entertainment industries.

The First G.I. Joes

The first G.I. Joes were 12 inches tall and based on the four branches of the U.S.A.’s military – Army, Navy, Air-force, & Marine.

The first figures were realistic action figures, and were originally called American’s Moveable Fighting Man. The driving force behind G.I. Joe was Don Levine, the former creative director of Hasbro Toys.

An interview with G.I. Joe creator Don Levine where he discusses the process of developing and naming G.I. Joe. Video uploaded by Chad Humbree.

During development of the G.I. Joes the original characters had different names. Instead of Action Soldier, Action Marine, Action Sailor, and Action Pilot the characters were Rocky (the soldier/marine),Salty (the sailor), and Ace (the pilot).

The marketing company hired to manage the G.I. Joe toy line told Hasbro that the toy line needed a name, not just the characters. Levin struck upon the name G.I. Joe while sitting at home watching a movie – 1945’s Story of G.I. Joe.

The poster from the 1945 film "The Story of G.I. Joe", the namesake of G.I. Joe action figures.
The poster from the 1945 film “The Story of G.I. Joe”, the namesake of G.I. Joe action figures.

When G.I. Joe was first released the term “G.I.” was used as a common term for “government issued” and had become a generic term for U.S. soldiers. Combined with the commonly used alias of “Joe”, as in “average Joe” provided the perfect name for the newly minted action figures.

Barbie and G.I. Joe

Hasbro released the G.I. Joe line-up as a direct response to Mattel’s new Barbie toy, released in 1959.

The G.I. Joes presented a marketing challenge to Hasbro. Conventional wisdom said that boys would never play with a doll. Instead Hasbro marketed the G.I. Joes as “action figures” and changed the toy industry forever.

The original Barbie posing with the original G.I. Joe. Joe is half an inch taller than Barbie, but the hat makes her appear the same height.
The original Barbie posing with the original G.I. Joe. Joe is half an inch taller than Barbie, but the hat makes her appear the same height.

G.I. Joe around the world

Click on the push-pins to see what G.I. Joe is known as around the world!

Post-war G.I. Joe

During the late 1960’s the World was growing weary of war thanks to the ongoing Vietnam War. Hasbro began downplaying the military theme that had defined G.I. Joe.

The name of G.I. Joe changed first to The Adventure’s of G.I. Joe, and in 1970 became Adventure Team. In this series the enemy the G.I. Joes faced were ecological disasters and animals, instead of human enemies.

The Adventure Team Commander (Caucasian version) released in 1970.
The Adventure Team Commander (Caucasian version) released in 1970.

The nine characters in the Adventure Team series included the first African-American G.I. Joe as well as the first talking G.I. Joe figures. The nine characters are;

  1. Talking Adventure Team Commander
  2. Land Adventurer
  3. Sea Adventurer
  4. Air Adventurer
  5. Adventurer (the first African-American character)
  6. Man of Action
  7. Talking Astronaut
  8. Talking Man of Action
  9. Talking Adventure Team Commander (African-American character)

Star Wars to the rescue

After a brief hiatus between 1978 and 1981 G.I. Joe came back as a scaled down 3.75-inch action figure. This design was modelled on the popular Star Wars action figures.

The smaller size of the new G.I. Joes allowed for a wider range of vechiles and accessories.

G.I. Joe had a feature the Star Wars action figures didn’t – many more point of articulation. This gave the Joes a wider range of movement than other action figures at the time.

To market the new G.I. Joes Hasbro combined traditional marketing with new techniques, by releasing

  • animated television mini-series
  • comic books
  • board games
  • posters
  • video games
  • t-shirts
  • kites

The introduction to season one of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Hosted by ReliveRetroNetwork on YouTube.

Bringing back the classic G.I. Joe

In 1991 Hasbro began releasing new 12-inch G.I. Joe action figures. Four years later they released the Classic Collection.

This collection honoured the original G.I. Joe figures and returned to the military theme with realistic looking uniforms and equipment.

The collection also featured several firsts for G.I. Joe including

  • G.I. Jane – the first female character since 1967’s Action Nurse
  • Navajo Code Talker – the first Native American character
  • The Pearl Harbor Collection – a series to honour the 60th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbour

G.I. Joe in the 20th century

The 12-inch and 3.75-inch G.I. Joe figures were both available until the 12-inch size was discontinued in 2005. The 3.75-inch figures continue to be sold.

In 2009 a live-action, feature length G.I. Joe move was released. The movie was titled G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation was released in 2013.

The trailer for the first G.I. Joe movie, directed by Stephen Sommers. The sequel was directed by Jon M. Chu.

Explore how G.I. Joe has changed through the years

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