In 1964, Hasbro launched a new military themed product line. GI Joe, or Government Issue Joe, was not a specific person. Instead, he was meant to represent all the regular fighting ‘’Joes’’ from all branches of the armed forces.
The first series consisted of four 12’’ figures: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Marine and Action Pilot. Each came with fatigues, a hat, boots and dog tags specific to their branch of the military. In addition to the four base figures, Hasbro offered a multitude of different uniforms, gear and accessories (sold separately of course) to give your GI Joe a specialty. You could change your Action Soldier into an MP or your Action Sailor into a Shore Patrol Officer.
Although it seems commonplace for us now, a line of ‘’Dolls for boys’’ was revolutionary at the time. In fact, legend has it that someone at Hasbro coined the term ‘’Action Figure’’ to fight the perception that boys would never play with dolls. Despite this perception, sales of GI Joe surpassed all expectations the first year. Little boys loved the realistic uniforms and accessories and Hasbro rushed to keep up with demand during the Holiday shopping season.
The following years, Hasbro added more variety to the line. GI Joe was available with different skin and hair colors, he added different specialties to his repertoire, he received a vehicle with his trusty ‘’Willy’s Jeep’’, he represented all the ‘’Soldiers of the World’’ and he even became an Astronaut.
Despite all these innovations, by 1969 due in part to America’s ongoing war in Vietnam, sales of GI Joe products started to decline. Still believing in GI Joe, Hasbro distanced him from his military roots and re-launched him as an Adventurer the following year. The GI Joe Adventure Team was made up of 5 characters: Man of Action, Commander, Sea Adventurer, Land Adventurer and Air Adventurer. All had flocked ‘’life-like’’ hair and later included ‘’Kung-Fu’’ grip, moving ‘’Eagle’’ eyes and sound chips that allowed them to talk. Through this new theme, GI Joe explored the World, gained new vehicles and accessories, saved relics, captured tigers and gorillas and experienced all kinds of exciting adventures.
By 1975, GI Joe was facing stiffer competition from other toy lines. Hasbro felt that he needed a bit of a facelift. New characters like Mike Powers and Bulletman made their debuts. A year later, new enemies were introduced in the form of the Intruders. By the end of the seventies, with the cost of oil reaching historic highs, Hasbro introduced Super Joe – an 8’’ version of GI Joe. However, he failed to re-ignite the magic and shortly thereafter, Joe was gone from retail shelves.
GI Joe was far from dead. In 1982, Hasbro launched GI Joe: A Real American Hero. This new line of 3.75’’ action figures depicted a team of military specialists that battle against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the World. GI Joe and Cobra have been battling in one form or another, ever since.