On this month 50 years ago, Hasbro introduced the world’s first action figure, revolutionizing playtime for millions of American kids for decades to come.
G.I. Joe was born in 1964, the brainchild of Hasbro’s Don Levine, the company’s creative director at the time.
The original action figure — marketed as “America’s Movable Fighting Man” — sold for $4, stood 11.5 inches tall and was available in four varieties modeled after the each of the branches of the U.S. military (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines). Each Joe doll incorporated 21 moving parts and was built to interact with various accessories such as guns, helmets and military vehicles.
While selling well at first, negative popular sentiment about U.S. involvement in Vietnam led to steadily decreasing demand for the combat-centric action figures in the late 1960’s. By the end of the next decade, G.I. Joe had been discontinued by Hasbro.
But in 1982, the Joes were called back to active duty. Successfully relaunching as “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero,” the newly-styled action figures were shrunk down to 1:18 scale (compared to 1:6 scale for the 1964 originals), each toy soldier standing 3¾ inches tall.
From 1982 to 1994, G.I. Joe became a top-seller and a staple of the American toy box. Hasbro produced 500+ different movable figurines and 250+ vehicles and playsets, as well as being licensed and used on more lunchboxes and twin-sized bed sheets than anyone cares to count.*
In 1994, Joe went on leave again, as Hasbro cancelled the Real American Hero line, releasing a series of 12-inch figurines nostalgically modelled after the 1964 originals.
New iterations of G.I. Joe have been released consistently every couple years dating from 1994 all the way up until just last year — I have a sense we haven’t seen the last of everyone’s favorite miniature, movable American heroes.
I salute you, Joe. Happy 50th Birthday!
*Author’s note: I can personally attest to the widespread popularity of G.I. Joe in the 1980’s. Everybody watched the cartoon and we’d all run around with plastic guns pretending to be steeped in battle with Cobra Commander and his tyrannical forces. In my neighborhood alone, there were enough G.I. Joe action figures and G.I. Joe vehicles and G.I. Joe bases to fight a full, 1:18 scale, G.I. Joe war right there in my backyard. And the other neighborhood kids and I bravely fought that backyard mini-war, battle by battle — we fought in the sandbox, on the deck and throughout my Mom’s garden, for nearly a decade. Then, I turned eleven and Super Nintendo was released.
Photos via: Google