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G.I. Joe - 1960s

Updated on March 17, 2012

In the 1960s he was a soldier - "America's movable fighting man". In the 1970s he was an adventurer with "life-like hair" and a kung-fu grip. In the 1980s he was re-imagined as part of a military strike force, defending the free world from the terrorist group known as Cobra.

He is G.I. Joe, the action figure first introduced by Hasbro in 1964. He's seen a great many changes over the years, and today, almost 50 years after his creation, G.I. Joe is still going strong. In the 2012 movie G.I. Joe: Retaliation, he's a big-screen action hero played by Bruce Willis. But let's go back to where it all began, and take a look at G.I. Joe in the 1960s.

G.I. Joe as he looked straight out of the box in the 1960s. From left to right: Action Soldier, Sailor, Pilot and Marine. The soldier is wearing the dog tag that came with all G.I. Joe figures. The pilot flightsuit came in both yellow and orange.
G.I. Joe as he looked straight out of the box in the 1960s. From left to right: Action Soldier, Sailor, Pilot and Marine. The soldier is wearing the dog tag that came with all G.I. Joe figures. The pilot flightsuit came in both yellow and orange. | Source

1964 G.I. Joe TV commercial

The Original Action Figure

In 1959, Mattel released a new doll: a "teenage fashion model" named Barbie. Mattel sold more than 300,000 Barbie dolls that year. The beauty of the concept (for Mattel) is that every Barbie sold resulted in numerous follow-on sales, as girls would want to have additional outfits and accessories for dressing up their dolls.

G.I. Joe was an attempt by the Hasbro Toy Company to recreate the Barbie phenomenon with boys. Conventional wisdom at the time was that boys didn't play with dolls, so Hasbro coined a new term to describe G.I. Joe. He was no doll, he was an "action figure"!

G.I. Joe's hands were designed so that they could actually hold his gear.
G.I. Joe's hands were designed so that they could actually hold his gear. | Source

America's Movable Fighting Man

In 1964, Hasbro released 4 different G.I. Joe models, one for each branch of the US military. The figure was 11 1/2 inches tall, the same size that had been so successful with Barbie. The G.I. Joe figure had more points of articulation, however. The neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles all moved, so Joe could assume all kinds of dynamic poses, and the hands were carefully designed so that Joe could actually hold his accessories.

G.I. Joe's poseability was a major selling point, and was reflected in the names of the figures: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Pilot and Action Marine. Joe and his accessories were sold in eye-catching packaging, with painted artwork of G.I. Joe in action, and cellophane windows that let you see everything that was inside.

With so much gear available, G.I. Joe needed a footlocker to store it all in.
With so much gear available, G.I. Joe needed a footlocker to store it all in. | Source

The number of uniforms and accessories available grew every year. Soon the Action Soldier could be outfitted as a Green Beret or Military Police officer. The Action Sailor could become a frogman or deep sea diver, and the Action Marine could be transformed into a paratrooper or medic. The Action Pilot had some of the best accessories. He could be dressed as a fighter pilot, and even an astronaut.

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The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s.The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s.The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s.
The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s.
The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s. | Source
The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s.
The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s. | Source
The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s.
The dynamic painted artwork and attractive window box packaging were key elements in the phenomenal success of G.I. Joe in the 1960s. | Source

G.I. Joe Soldiers of the World

Hasbro experimented with a number of G.I. Joe variations and spin-offs throughout the 1960s. In 1965, the first African-American G.I.Joe was released, and in 1966 Hasbro created the Soldiers of the World collection, which consisted of:

  • Russian Infantry Man
  • Japanese Soldier
  • German Soldier
  • British Commando
  • Australian Jungle Fighter
  • French Resistance Fighter

1967 saw the release of the talking G.I. Joe, who shouted phrases at the pull of his dog tag, and the G.I. Nurse Action Girl. The G.I. Nurse failed to catch on, and was soon discontinued. It is now among the rarest of the vintage G.I. Joe figures.

G.I. Joe: 1960s Year-by-year

Year
Milestone
1964
G.I. Joe is introduced
1965
African-American G.I. Joe is released
1966
Soldiers of the World series
1967
Talking G.I. Joe, G.I. Nurse
1968
Sales falter, various combinations of figures and gear released as "Action Packs"
1969
Adventures of G.I.Joe series

Adventures of G.I. Joe

G.I. Joe had been an incredible success story for Hasbro, but by 1968 the story seemed to be coming to an end. Americans were war-weary, and there was heightened concern over the effects of violent toys and television programming on children. Sales were declining, and Hasbro was reduced to combining various G.I. Joe figures and accessories into value packs, which they called "Adventure Packs".

In 1969, however, Hasbro developed a new identity for G.I. Joe. No longer was he a military man. He was now an adventurer, and the line became known as The Adventures of G.I. Joe. Instead of military battles, G.I. Joe now engaged in mysterious and exciting adventures. Uniforms and equipment were packaged according to themes, such as Danger of the Depths, Perilous Rescue, and Spacewalk Mystery.

In 1970, the adventure concept coalesced into the G.I. Joe Adventure Team, which would take G.I. Joe to even greater levels of success than he'd seen in the 1960s.

Hasbro Masterpiece Edition and Timeless Collection

In 1998, Hasbro released the G.I. Joe: Masterpiece Edition, which were reproductions of the original 1964 G.I. Joe, packed with a book containing the history of the figure. The Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Pilot and Action Marine were each released as Masterpiece Editions.

The line was so successful that between 1998 and 2005 Hasbro produced faithful reproductions of a number of other vintage G.I. Joe figures and accessories as part of the Timeless Collection, with many of these sets released between 2003 and 2005 to celebrate G.I. Joe's 40th anniversary. The photos that accompany this article are of Masterpiece Edition and Timeless Collection figures and equipment (I wish I had the vintage items in this condition!).

Sources

  • Levine, Don, and Michlig, John. GI Joe: The Story Behind the Legend. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1996.
  • Santelmo, Vincent. The Complete Encyclopedia To GI Joe. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1997.

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    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      WOW! This is right up my alley. Glad to see more collectors on HubPages! I love his hands. Too bad they never did that with Barbie! And that footlocker is amazing.

      In some research I did on Barbie, the Mattel people were so impressed with the articulated body parts when they looked him over during a meeting that they tried to come up with something better than Ken. But Joe was always the best!

      Voted up, beautiful, awesome, and interesting!

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Nice story. Up and sharing. Cheers.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks for the votes! The original G.I. Joe figure was ugly without clothes, with gaps between the joints, exposed rivets where the joints bent, but none of that was visible with the uniform on. It was pretty amazing for its time.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

      What a collection you have of G.I. Joes! This is a fantastic Hub. I knew very little about G.I. Joe beforehand, thanks!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks Robin!

    • profile image

      PWalker281 5 years ago

      It's amazing how this doll ... oops, I mean action figure ... has transformed to keep up with changing times. I'll be honest, I refused to let my daughter own a GI Joe when she was growing up in the 80s because of the violence I thought he represented. Now he's, what?, a mercenary? No, no, an adventurer. My bad!

      All kidding aside, I learned a lot about GI Joe from this well-written and informative hub. Looks like you've got a quite a collection there yourself, Doc.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks very much, PWalker281. I have 3 sons myself (all adults now) so I completely understand the parental concern about what kids play with, watch on TV, and so on. I definitely tried to steer my kids away from certain things when they were growing up. But when I was a kid, way back when in the 60s, G.I. Joe was tied with Adam West's Batman for the coolest thing ever.

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

      Nice background history on G.I. Joe. I was obsessed with every boy cartoon growing up including this one. If I had to pick between Ken or G.I. Joe for Barbie to marry, it would always be the real American hero! Great job - voted up, interesting, and awesome!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Absolutely fascinating! I've read a lot about Barbies and their history, but knew NOTHING about G.I. Joes. What an interesting history- and your photos are fantastic! Love this Hub.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks Alissa and Simone, I appreciate the feedback. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Great Hub!

    • Jared Zane Kessie profile image

      Jared Zane Kessie 5 years ago from Richland, Washington

      As a 80's and 90's G.I. Joe generation, it was cool to find out where it all started.

      I think my favorite part of the history is Hasbro coming up with a new name, action figure. Genius!

      Are those action figures in your pictures originals, or reproductions?

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Jared, they're reproductions. It was great when Hasbro was doing all the reissues. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Jared Zane Kessie profile image

      Jared Zane Kessie 5 years ago from Richland, Washington

      I just realized they were part of the Masterpiece and Timeless editions. Whoops, sorry!

    • profile image

      Duane Siskey 3 years ago

      This is a great hub! As an avid 1/6 collector and kitbasher, it's always a pleasure reading what others have to say. The new companies make figures with gear and weapons that are mind-boggling in detail, but in my opinion the original is still the best. G.I. Joe started the fad. May he live forever!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 3 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks Duane. I have several kitbashed Viet Nam figures, but I had to put them in storage when my basement was recently flooded. Once repairs are complete down there I can get them back on display.

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