The Original Action Figure, G.I. Joe, Celebrates His 60th Birthday
G.I. Joe truly changed the game and helped create the popularity of the action figure toys we know and love. G.I. Joe action figures were released in 1964 by Hasbro, for several reasons. One, Hasbro wanted to compete with Mattel, who released the uber-popular Barbie and Ken dolls just a few years prior. Two, they wanted to release a doll of sorts that would be marketed toward boys. The vice president and director of marketing at the time, Don Levine, convinced Hasbro to purchase inventor Stan Weston’s idea for a military doll. Levine also served in Korea and wanted a way to honor veterans.
He became known as an action figure because he had moveable joints and the company wanted them to be envied by boys, so they didn’t want to call them dolls. The original G.I. Joe was a U.S. Army soldier but he soon got a variety of military jobs. There was an Air Force pilot, U.S. Marine, Navy sailor, NASA astronaut, and eventually a female G.I. Nurse Action Girl. They also released a Black G.I. Joe along with tons of accessories including clothes and vehicles.
At first, Hasbro was seeing huge profits from the G.I. Joe action figures. However, as American support for the Vietnam War decreased, people started believing that children should not be playing with war toys. So, Hasbro had to switch things up and started releasing new action figures that weren’t tied to the military. The 1970s tested Hasbro even more when Star Wars and other movie character toys started increasing in popularity.
The 1970s oil crisis also spelled out trouble for G.I. Joe. It increased the price of plastic so companies started using less durable material and the quality of the action figures suffered, making people less likely to purchase them. By the ’80s, Hasbro changed things up again and released much smaller action figures which tied to a television show and comic book. Despite the ups and downs, G.I. Joe remains one of the most nostalgic toys out there and is quite collectible. A quick search on eBay netted many results with items as cheap as $1 to some well over $1,000.