GI Joe Action Figure Doll character was created on February 9, 1964. The doll was in response to the growing Barbie doll market which was so popular at the time. The 12 inch tall muscular male figure with movable joints looked the antitheses of the delicate and feminine Barbie. He was dressed as a World War II fighting man. The prototypes feature the four branches of the US Armed Forces: a Marine, an Army Soldier, a Navy Sailor, and an Air Force Pilot.
The line in the US was produced by a toy company called Hasbro, and manufactured in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A similar line was established in the UK called “Action Man” since the term “GI” was not used in the UK. It was licensed to a company called Palitoy. Palitoy was responsible for many of the more radical changes and advances in the character. In fact, they eventually produced their characters in the form of football players and other sports players.
The concept of boys playing with dolls was new, so Hasbro was careful not to use the word “doll” in any of their marketing. “Action figure” and “movable fighting man” were quickly picked up as the euphemism to describe the dolls. In fact, Hasbro trademarked the term “America’s movable fighting man” and used it on every box.
The letters “GI” has several possible roots. Some say it stands for Government Issue or General Infantry. Others say it from the term galvanized iron, a metal used by the Amy during World War I. During World War II the term GI was commonly used in reference to enlisted men, and individual soldiers were called GI Joes. Hasbro claims the GI Joe name was inspired from the film “The GI Joe Story” in 1945.
By the late 1960’s the US was involved in the Vietnam War and Hasbro wanted to downplay the war theme with their now famous action doll. They changed the line’s tag to “The Adventures of GI Joe”. By 1970 the name of the line changed again to “Adventure Team”.
The doll’s appearance also changed with the times. The first version of the doll was clean shaven. Later he came with the choice of a beard or clean shaven. His hair was originally molded plastic, but eventually came in a “flocked” version. He was offered in Caucasian or African American, and his hands were soon molded in a softer plastic to allow him to grip objects in a more lifelike fashion.
The last major innovation offered was a change in his eyes. In 1976 his “eagle eye” vision was imporved with a mechanism that allowed his eyes to appear to be looking around.
While GI Joe’s 12” action figure dolls reached the height of its popularity in the 1970’s the legend lives on. Hasbro continues to produce limited editions and commemorative items, plus a comic strip and video games are still popular.